They were a phenomenon. Not necessarily the kind that plays to stadiums or fills MTV's timeslots or even sells millions of records. Rather, the kind that quietly causes a fundamental shift in perception, exerting a seminal influence that is universally felt if not always seen. Even after having called it quits in 1998—ending a 15-year career together that was impressive by any measure—their mark continues to be recognized everywhere, and legions of fans still hunger for more. But more is not likely to come soon.
In the midst of recording their ninth proper LP as a group—the follow-up to the 1996 release Milk & Kisses—Cocteau Twins decided "enough was enough." Elizabeth Fraser, the group's beguiling, singularly distinctive singer, took her leave and moved away from London to pursue a promising solo career. Her long-time collaborators—Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde—continue to focus on their own musical pursuits. Simon's solo work and involvement in developing new talent and Robin's new project, Violet Indiana—along with their successful independent record label, Bella Union—have proven that life beyond Cocteau Twins can be fruitful indeed.
It is ironic, of course, that Bella Union should have been founded as a vehicle for Cocteau Twins music. It was so named in honor of the trio's success and determination to stay together through difficult circumstances, to continue to make music that defied description and ignored prevailing music trends. Music that transcended boundaries into a realm uniquely their own.
But change, as they say, is inevitable, and even such stunning beauty as that created by Cocteau Twins could not—and, perhaps should not—go on indefinitely. But their music and their contribution to the art form, thankfully, will last forever. Cocteau Twins are among the very few artists whose music withstands the test of time: even in 2001, an eleven year-old Cocteau Twins song like "Fifty-fifty Clown" sounds as fresh and new as if it were recorded only yesterday.
Devoted fans and newcomers alike are sometimes filled with questions about this often-mysterious, sometimes media-shy trio, who were influential in not only defining the post-punk sound of the 1980's (and 4AD in the process) but also influenced generations of musicians in the 1990's and beyond. To-date, they have been cited as notable influences by such diverse artists as Prince, Madonna, Annie Lennox and Perfect Circle, not to mention bands such as Slowdive, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse and Curve (just to name a few), who all worked in musical territory pioneered by Cocteau Twins.
As recently as 2000—nearly twenty years after Robin and Liz first started to make music with their friend Will Heggie in a small, dirty industrial town in Scotland—a two-CD collection of radio show performances (BBC Sessions) was released on Bella Union in conjunction with the BBC. That was followed in late 2001 by an eighteen-track digitally remastered retrospective from 4AD entitled Stars and Topsoil, which chronicled highlights from their career with their long-time record label from 1982 to 1990. The story continued in 2003, as remastered early LPs Garlands, Head Over Heels, Treasure and Victorialand were reissued by 4AD. In 2005—an ill-fated year in which the band nearly reunited—4AD released a new limited-edition box-set, Lullabies to Violaine, a compilation of digitally remastered EPs, singles and b-sides spanning the entire Cocteau Twins catalog (including non-4AD music) from 1982 to 1996.
So, like a compilation of songs from various records, this chronological series of articles is intended to give the reader some insight and perspective on Cocteau Twins, and document the span of their remarkable career together. Readers can look forward to a book-format biography of Cocteau Twins, written by fan extraordinaire Leesa Beales, which is due sometime in the near future. Visit www.cocteautwins.org for more details and the latest news on that.
Chapter 1 - 1982
© 1995-2005 Michael Borum, unless otherwise noted.