The Cocteau Twins: A Retrospective
Formed in 1979 in Grangemouth, Scotland, the Cocteau Twins quickly rose to become one of the most influential bands of the 1980s. Comprised of vocalist Elizabeth Fraser, guitarist Robin Guthrie, and bassist Will Heggie, the group’s sound was marked by Fraser’s ethereal and often incomprehensible vocals, Guthrie’s layered guitar work, and the use of unconventional instrumentation. Despite the band’s relatively short career and tumultuous inner workings, their impact on the music world is still felt today.
Early Days and Formation
Fraser and Guthrie met in Grangemouth at the age of 15, bonding over their shared love of punk and post-punk bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. They began writing and performing together, eventually recruiting Heggie on bass. The band’s name, Cocteau Twins, was chosen as a nod to the Surrealist filmmaker Jean Cocteau and the fact that the three members were all “twins” in their own way.
In 1981, the Cocteau Twins released their first single, “The Spangle Maker,” on the independent 4AD label. The single caught the attention of the British music press, and the band quickly gained a reputation for their unique sound and Fraser’s captivating vocals. Their debut album, “Garlands,” was released the following year and received critical acclaim, solidifying the Cocteau Twins as a rising force in the indie music scene.
Success and Evolution
The Cocteau Twins continued to release critically acclaimed albums throughout the 1980s, including “Treasure,” “Victorialand,” and “Heaven or Las Vegas.” Their sound continued to evolve and incorporate elements of dream pop, shoegaze, and ethereal wave, with Fraser’s vocals becoming increasingly abstract and layered. The band’s popularity grew, and they began to tour internationally, playing to sold-out crowds across Europe and the United States.
In addition to their musical achievements, the Cocteau Twins also garnered attention for their unique fashion sense, often incorporating flowing gowns and other elaborate stage costumes. Fraser’s distinctive look, with her long red hair and striking features, made her a muse for several fashion designers and photographers.
Despite their success, the Cocteau Twins’ inner workings were often tumultuous. Fraser and Guthrie had a volatile romantic relationship, which eventually led to Heggie leaving the band in 1984. The band continued as a duo, with Guthrie and Fraser writing and recording the majority of their material.
Legacy and Influence
The Cocteau Twins officially disbanded in 1997, but their impact on the music world continues to be felt. Their unique blend of ethereal vocals and guitar-driven instrumentation has influenced countless artists, from dream pop bands like Beach House and Beach House to indie rockers like The National and Fleet Foxes. Fraser’s vocals, in particular, have been praised for their emotive power and ability to convey meaning even when the lyrics are unintelligible.