The Cocteau Twins are, in many ways, something of an unfortunate band to review. On the one hand, their style is something fairly different (more or less unique) and has the potential to provide for some exotic description, but on the other, there seem to be a limited number of phrases that a reviewer can use in such description. Once you've run through the "shimmering basslines", "glacial melodies" and "ethereal soundscapes" which "first freeze the mind and then slowly release it to hitherto unexperienced horizons of beauty"*, you've got a review which reads just like every other glacial, shimmering, ethereal Cocteau Twins review out there.
Inevitably then, it seems to fall simply to discussing the various elements of the band. Luckily the Twins come up smiling again; they provide a few great points to make, mostly in reference to Liz Fraser. Simply, her voice is amazing. You may know her as the woman who sings on Massive Attack's Teardrop
(incidentally one of the best songs ever written), and I'd imagine that chances are, if you've heard that song at least, you'll know what I mean. I've never been on the "other side" (that is, not loving her voice, if there even is such a side), so I don't know arguments against it. It's just..enchanting. Clear and fragile, with something of a rather difficult to describe "slant" to it, perhaps a result of her (Scottish) accent. It really is easily the biggest attraction to the Cocteau Twins; if you like her voice, you're more or less automatically suckered in to liking the band as a whole.
The only possible objection I can see (and it doesn't particularly bother me), is that it's not clear what she's saying. She writes the lyrics herself, and they don't appear in the booklet, so I imagine that what they actually are is known only to her, though fans are never short of ideas. Along with being one of the most beautiful I've heard, her singing voice is also one of the strangest, when it comes to pronunciation, articulation, and so on. e.g. "Sun" is easily mistaken for "soon". To go back to Teardrop
as an example; the opening line appears to be "Love, love essoo vairb" ("Love, love is a verb"). Is it "feather sun, my braid" or "fearless on my breath"? Maybe "fear this song might break"? "Black powers for some" or "black flowers blossom"?
Still, this is not a problem for me, and neither should it be for you, when you're listening to one of the best voices in the world. If anything, I quite like the indeterminate nature of her voice. You can pick and choose what to say along with it
Moving away from Liz, the main thing I notice after her is the bass. The music always seems to me to be very bass-driven, but the bass is used in an odd way, difficult for me to describe without resorting to visual approximations; more a bass pool, than a bassline. "Shimmering" remains probably the best description for it, and it often mixes somewhat with the rest of the instrumentation to provide a big pulsing backdrop to Liz's vocals. In terms of songwriting, this album is really quite poppy; the majority of the songs are only a little over three minutes long, and the hook/chorus often comes in early on, and is repeated fairly often. It has a lifespan longer than the majority of pop, though, due mostly to the features mentioned previously, which constitute the "alt." bit. Several of the songs are rather high quality, too, especially when they drift from the simplistic structure in writing and experiment a bit (the longer tracks, basically).
Finally, a personal note before I finish; the Cocteau Twins music, at least on this album, always makes me think of the Northern Lights (the aurora borealis, not the book). So, here you are:
As an introduction, either Cherry-Coloured Funk
or Fifty-Fifty Clown
are excellent. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous (or you don't want to start from the poppy extreme, for whatever reason), give Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires
or the title track a try.
*a shiny new penny to anyone who can recognise this reference.