When Words Don’t Matter
Music is one of many passions of mine. For instance, my Spotify playlist includes a variety of artists from the Smashing Pumpkins to Curve and from Portishead to Swans.
Today, I’m writing about the Cocteau Twins. The reason why I’ve chosen this band is that they prove that words may not matter after all. When it comes to creating beautiful music, Cocteau Twins don’t rely very much on recognizable languages. Although I had listened to some of their music growing up, I didn’t get into them until I got to college.
Cocteau Twins were born in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979. The band was initially made up of vocalist Elizabeth Fraser and musicians Will Heggie and Robin Guthrie. The former would be replaced in 1984 by multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde. Most of their albums were released by 4AD, whose catalog included several bands that I listen to, such as Bauhaus, Clan of Xymox, Dead Can Dance, Rowland S. Howard & Lydia Lunch, Lush, and X-Mal Deutschland.
It could be argued that the band was mostly an indie act until the album Heaven or Las Vegas was released in 1990. Nonetheless, Cocteau Twins had already achieved international fame thanks to their participation in the This Mortal Coil project. This collaboration produced a cover version of Tim Buckley’s "Song to the Siren." This song has been used in commercials and movies and has been sampled on many occasions. In the mid-’90s, Cocteau Twins were featured in the Fruitopia commercials.
In 1997, while recording what would have been their ninth studio album, Cocteau Twins disbanded. Years later, it was announced that the band was reforming to perform at the 2005 edition of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. But the reunion would never happen. Ever since their demise, all members have remained musically active. Most notably, Elizabeth Fraser was featured on Massive Attack’s "Teardrop," which has also been used and sampled countless times.
I’m grateful to own Cocteau Twins’ work so I can play their music anytime. The combination of the multi-layered, ethereal sound textures and the soprano vocals of Elizabeth Fraser makes them a one-of-a-kind band. Initially rooted in the early '80s post-punk/gothic rock sound, Cocteau Twins would end up evolving into what’s known today as dream pop. Still, the band has always remained unique.
The band’s sound and vocals set them apart from others. As a lover of languages, I was curious to decipher their lyrics. I assumed they were written and sung in English. However, I didn’t always understand them. It turns out that Elizabeth Fraser’s lyrics range from straightforward English to made-up words and abstract mouth music. For some recordings, she has admitted to using foreign words without knowing the meaning.
I’ve seen many web pages attempting to render Cocteau Twins’ lyrics, but Elizabeth Fraser has said those are only interpretations. That’s the magic of the band: their lyrics are malleable and evoking. I came to realize that the words were never important. It’s the vocals and music that are satisfying enough. Cocteau Twins have produced a music flavor that hasn’t been matched. Personal favorite songs include:
NOTE: If you don’t have Spotify or prefer to look for them on YouTube, I recommend you check the videos that user Shum65—of blessed memory—created for many Cocteau Twins’ songs.