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Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels

January 25, 2007

As far as Cocteau Twins records go, the question is never whether or not it is great, but instead how great it is. The band made a point to make comforting records, at least save Garlands, and as jarring as it is, Head Over Heels is actually one of the more comforting they made. Sound-wise it is one of the bands more dark and disturbing records, although it does have it’s gorgeous moments, but what makes this record truly comforting is the fact that it lays down the foundation for even greater things to come while delivering a solid set of songs. By the time this was recorded, the groups original bassist quit the lineup and Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser were left by themselves. Setback? Hardly. It just so happens that the second Will Heggie left, the remaining duo made their first great album, and arguably their best. Instead of being as accessible or serenely beautiful as Treasure or Heaven or Las Vegas, it is a challenging and strange record that actually ends up being just as rewarding and interesting.

While Head Over Heels may seem a bit unrefined in comparisson to later Cocteau records, you need to keep in mind that this truly defined the bands sound. From the opening drones of When Mama Was Moth, Head Over Heels innovates at every turn. You can still hear an echo of Garlands’ songwriting style even in the opening track, but very distantly. The song is tame yet dark, and Liz Frasers hymns are spot on, expressing some kind of angelic mysticism in a creepy sort of way. The next song Five Ten Fiftyfold expands on this darkness in a surprisingly catchy way, staying almost even a bit bleak with it’s minor tones and guitar squalls while Fraser resounds at her absolute best. The albums most mysteriously dark and yet touching moment comes later though, with The Tinderbox (Of A Heart), a knockout performance on every level. The song has the signature Guthrie beautiful guitar drones and picking in conjunction with beautiful changs by Fraser. Don’t let anyone fool you, while people may say that Blue Bell Knoll is the bands darkest record, it just isn’t. This takes the cake in that category, if you could ever consider any of the Cocteau Twins’ records truly “dark.”

Keep in mind that this album was made before Simon Raymonde joined the group and therefore still doesn’t have their signature aching beauty. This would come soon enough with The Spangle Maker EP and consequently Treasure, but it’s not like everything on this record isn’t spot on as it is. Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser deliver on every level they possibly could, Guthrie reinventing their sound from the ground up to a distinctive hypnotic guitar-laden heaven, and Fraser giving one of her best vocal performances. Not every song is dark or anything, it just kind of seems like it. The albums clear winner is Sugar Hiccup, a lovely dreampop masterpiece. What really amazes me is how much Guthrie truly manages by himself in the song creation department. While I’m sure that Fraser contributed more than just her knockout vocals, Guthrie is the man behind the tunes themselves, and would be until Raymonde joined in and shared the weight, but considering that these songs are just as pretty as most of the bands later work, Guthrie deserves a big pat on the back for his efforts here.

There is actually a lot of variety here, at least for a Twins record. But really, every Cocteau Twins song is extremely individual and can be treated like it’s own treasure. I do feel that stylistically, Head Over Heels is particulary varied. In Our Angelhood is the most telling of the bands roots. It plays like something earlier by The Cure and almost touches on punk, in a pretty sort of way. It’s just about the most upbeat or at least the most grooving you will ever hear the band, and is truly one of the cooler songs the band made. And yet for how recognizably cool many of these songs are, the album is truly a challenging listen. Sometimes Fraser’s vocals are downright eccentric, especially on Glass Candle Grenades and the following In The Gold Dust Rush. These two songs especially take a long time to get used to and fully appreciate, but the effort pays off and at their core these two songs are truly fantastic. And Multifoiled is another tough entry, completely out of place with it’s late night bar jazz groove, and yet is a lot of fun. The album concludes a bit more conventionally though with two vintage Twins tracks, My Love Paramour and Mussette and Drums. The former is a grand hypnotic groove, and the latter is one of the albums strongest, an emotional explosion of beautiful guitars and Fraser’s always beautiful singing.

If you are new to the Cocteau Twins, you are better off starting elsewhere, but this album is classic, no question. People have complaints about it of course, but for the most part I think they are mostly due to the fact that this album jumps all over the place and was really before The Twins layed down their perfect sound, which they would subsequently do with Treasure. But as a sophomore album (and it’s usually that second one that really shows a bands talent, isn’t it?), this record cast aside all the dreary unexciting sound that Garlands was and created something completely new, using Liz’s vocals to their fullest and innovating at every turn with Guthrie’s guitars and unbelievable musicality. That is what makes this album truly comforting…the thought that there is still so much brilliance ahead of the band and that from as good of a record as this is, it only gets better. Once again, this is the Cocteau Twins not quite at the top but getting very close. It may not be as pretty and dreamy as Blue Bell Knoll or the bands swan song Treasure, but Head Over Heels is a wonderful record in it’s own right, in all of it’s dark, uneasy glory.

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4 comments

  1. Which Album is the best if I want to start listening to the Cocteau Twins?
    I like Radiohead, Air, Bjork, R.E.M
    Cheers
    Joe


  2. All great bands, you have good taste

    they have a greatest hits, Stars and Topsoil, but for actual albums I’d go for either Treasure or Blue Bell Knoll.


  3. thanks
    i will try the greatest hits


  4. Nagrałem kiedyś płytę z utworem Pandora i teraz nie wiem
    co to za płyta mam tylko muzykę taki byłem nie rozważny
    a kiedy ją odkopałem to od razu zrobiłem play i wpadła mi do ucha …JACO



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