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The Cocteau Twins were a Scottish alternative music band active from 1979 to 1997, known for complex instrumentation and atmospheric, nonlyrical vocals.

Though formed in the post punk and new wave era, the Cocteau Twins tended to defy concise categorization, and their music was a key influence on dream pop. Although the entire band earned much critical praise, Elizabeth Fraser's distinctive vocals received the most attention. At times barely decipherable, Fraser seemed to veer into glossolalia and mouth music. Allmusic reviewer Ned Raggett writes that "part of her appeal is how she can make hard-to-interpret lyrics so emotionally gripping."

Early years

Robin Guthrie (guitar, drum machine) and Will Heggie (bass guitar), both from Grangemouthmarker, Scotlandmarker, formed the band in 1979. At a local disco, Nash, they met Elizabeth Fraser, who would eventually provide vocals.

The band's influences at the time included Joy Division, The Birthday Party, Sex Pistols, Kate Bush, and Siouxsie & the Banshees. The band was named after the song "The Cocteau Twins" by fellow Scotsmen 'Johnny and the Self-Abusers' (who later renamed themselves Simple Minds; the song "The Cocteau Twins" was also re-penned as "No Cure"). Their debut recording, Garlands (released by 4AD Records in 1982), was an instant success, as was the subsequent Lullabies EP.


Will Heggie left the group after the tour that followed the 1983 release of the band's second EP, Peppermint Pig, at the alleged insistence of Fraser, reasons unstated, as recounted in an interview in Melody Maker. He subsequently joined Lowlife. The band's sound on its first three recordings relied on the combination of Heggie's rhythmic basslines, Guthrie's minimalist guitar, and Fraser's voice; Cocteau Twins' next full-length LP, Head over Heels, relied solely on the latter two. This led to the growth of Cocteau Twins' characteristic sound: Fraser's voice, by turns ethereal and earthy, combined with Guthrie's effects-heavy guitars. Guthrie has often said that he is far more interested in the way the guitar is recorded, than in the actual notes being played, though he later admitted the effects and layering were due to his own technical inabilities. Like its very dissimilar predecessor, Head over Heels was well-received by the public and press.

In 1983, the band participated in 4AD's This Mortal Coil project (this spawned a cover-version of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" performed by Guthrie and Fraser), and during their work for that, they got to know Simon Raymonde (formerly a member of Drowning Craze), who joined the group later that year as bass player.

With Raymonde, the band released a series of critically acclaimed albums and EPs that explored their new style. These included The Spangle Maker (1984), Treasure (1984), Aikea-Guinea (1985), Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay (1985), and Love's Easy Tears (1986). Raymonde, who was called in to work on the second album by This Mortal Coil, did not participate in the recording of the fourth Cocteau Twins LP, Victorialand (1986), a predominantly acoustic record which featured only Guthrie and Fraser. Raymonde returned to the group for The Moon and the Melodies (1986), a collaboration with ambient composer Harold Budd, which was not released under the Cocteau Twins name.

In 1985, 4AD signed an agreement with Relativity Records for distribution of Cocteau Twins' releases in the US and other territories. To commemorate the event, the compilation The Pink Opaque (1985) was released as a way of introducing the new, broader audience to the band's back-catalogue.

While remaining a 4AD band internationally, Cocteau Twins finally signed a major-label contract with Capitol Recordsmarker in 1988 for distribution in the US, and released their fifth proper LP, Blue Bell Knoll, in October of that year

Early 1990s

The style the group had begun exploring with Head over Heels reached its peak on Heaven or Las Vegas , released in late 1990. The most commercially successful of their many recordings, the album rose to the higher reaches of the UK charts immediately after its release. However, despite the success of the record and the subsequent concert tours, not everything was well with the band. They parted ways with 4AD following Heaven or Las Vegas partly because of conflicts with the label's founder Ivo Watts-Russell, and were close to breaking up over internal problems due in large part to Guthrie's addiction to drugs and alcohol.

While on their international tour supporting Heaven or Las Vegas, the group signed a new recording contract with Mercury Records subsidiary Fontana for the UK and elsewhere, while retaining their US relationship with Capitol. In 1991, 4AD and Capitol released a Box Set that compiled the band's EPs from 1982 to 1990, and also included a bonus disc of rare or previously unreleased material.

From 1990 noted Japanese guitarist Mitsuo Tate joined the band, as did English guitarist Ben Blakeman.

The band's seventh LP, Four-Calendar Café, was released in late 1993. It was a departure from the heavily-processed, complex and layered sounds of Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas, featuring clearer and more minimalistic arrangements. This, along with the record's unusually comprehensible lyrics, led to mixed reviews for the album: Some critics accused the group of selling out and producing an 'accessible album,' while others praised the new direction as a felicitous development worthy of comparison with Heaven or Las Vegas. The band themselves explained that Four-Calendar Café was simply a response to the turmoil that had engulfed them in the intervening years, with Guthrie entering rehab and quitting alcohol and drugs, and Fraser undergoing psychotherapy. The two had been in a long-term relationship, and by this time had a young daughter, Lucy-Belle, born in 1989.

Mid-1990s and breakup

1995 saw the release of two new EPs: Twinlights and Otherness. The former consisted of four gentle acoustic songs, recorded with only piano, acoustic guitar and voice; Otherness, by contrast, was a collaboration with Seefeel's Mark Clifford, and featured four electronic remixes of both older and then-unreleased Cocteau Twins songs. Both EPs were labelled 'experimental' by the press, since they were very different from the EPs the band had released in the past.

As it turned out, some of the tracks on both Twinlights and Otherness were versions of songs from the band's eighth album, Milk and Kisses (1996). The record saw the return of more heavily layered guitars, and Fraser began once again to obscure her lyrics, though not entirely. Two singles were taken from the album: Tishbite and Violaine; both exist in two CD versions, with different b-sides included on each. The band, augmented by an extra guitarist and a drummer, toured extensively to support the album — their last for Mercury/Fontana — and in live performances seemed to have found a cohesive freshness and power that had been lacking during their previous outing in 1993/94. A new song, "Touch Upon Touch", which debuted during the live shows and was recorded later in 1996, became the last Cocteau Twins song ever released. It was also one of the two songs written and arranged by Fraser, Guthrie and Raymonde for Chinese pop singer Faye Wong for her Mandarin album Fu Zao released in June 1996, the other being "Tranquil Eye" from Violaine released in October 1996.

In 1997, while recording what was to have been their ninth LP, the trio disbanded over irreconcilable differences in part related to the break-up of Guthrie and Fraser. While a number of songs were partially recorded and possibly completed, the band has stated that they will likely never be finished or released in any form. In the same year Guthrie and Raymonde wrote and performed a new song in Faye Wong's eponymous album.

In 1999, Bella Union, the record label founded by Guthrie and Raymonde, released a double-CD Cocteau Twins compilation entitled BBC Sessions. The collection is a complete record of the band's appearances on UK radio programs from 1983 to 1996, with rare and unreleased material included. In 2000, 4AD released Stars and Topsoil, a compilation of selected songs picked by the band members that had been released during their years with 4AD; all recordings had been digitally remastered by Robin Guthrie. Finally, in 2003, 4AD followed Stars and Topsoil with the release of digitally remastered versions of the first six Cocteau Twins LPs.


The former members of Cocteau Twins have remained active musically in the years since the band's demise. In addition to forming Bella Union, Guthrie and Raymonde have produced releases from new bands signed to that label.

Simon Raymonde released the solo album Blame Someone Else. He also produced the posthumous album by Billy Mackenzie from the Associates, then went on to produce several Domino Records artists like James Yorkston, Archie Bronson Outfit (whom he later managed) and Clearlake. More recently he has produced the UK band The Duke Spirit and has mixed the Mercury Prize nominated album The End Of History by Fionn Regan.

Robin Guthrie released two solo albums - Imperial and Continental. He toured extensively with his band Violet Indiana, which included ex-Cocteau's guitarist Mitsuo Tate in the line-up. He has also scored the music for two movies — American indie film Mysterious Skin and Mexican/Spanish movie 3:19. He also reunited with Harold Budd to collaborate on two companion CDs: Before The Day Breaks and After The Night Falls. These pieces can be viewed as a continuation of The Moon and the Melodies and the score for Mysterious Skin. He most recently produced and played guitar on Apollo Heights debut album, White Music For Black People

Fraser provided guest vocals on Future Sound of London's single "Lifeforms" (1993), vocals for three songs on Massive Attack's Mezzanine in 1998 (as well as touring with them several times), and for other, lesser-known projects and groups. For some time, she has been working on a solo album. Fraser provided the vocals for "Lament for Gandalf" in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In 2005, she worked with Breton musician Yann Tiersen on two songs for his album Les retrouvailles.

On 31 January 2005 Cocteau Twins announced that they would be reforming to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivalmarker on 30 April 2005, and later indicated that additional tour dates would be added. On 16 March, however, the reunion was cancelled, with Fraser pulling out for "personal reasons."In 2005, 4AD released a worldwide limited edition of 10,000 compilation box set titled, Lullabies to Violaine, a 4-disc set that details every single and EP released from 1982-1996. This was shortly followed up by two 2-disc sets of the same names, known as Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Since March 2007, the band has started podcasts of exclusive material.. On 6 October 2008 the Cocteau Twins accepted the Q Awards Inspiration Award. This was the first time they have publicly been seen together since the group broke up over 10 years earlier.



Year Album Peak Chart Position Certifications

(sales thresholds)





1982 Garlands
  • Released: 1 September 1982
  • Label: 4AD (CAD211)
1983 Head over Heels
  • Released: 31 October 1983
  • Label: 4AD (CAD313)
1984 Treasure
  • Released: 1 November 1984
  • Label: 4AD (CAD412)
29 32
1986 Victorialand
  • Released: April 1986
  • Label: 4AD (CAD602)
1986 The Moon and the Melodies
1988 Blue Bell Knoll
  • Released: 19 September 1988
  • Label: 4AD (CAD807)
15 109
1990 Heaven or Las Vegas
  • Released: 17 September 1990
  • Label: 4AD (00102)
7 99
1993 Four-Calendar Café
  • Released: 1 November 1993
  • Label: Fontana (518 259-2)
13 78
1996 Milk and Kisses
  • Released: March 1996
  • Label: Fontana (514 501-2)
17 48 53 99

EPs and singles

Year Title Chart Position Album


U.S. Mod
1982 Lullabies (EP)
  • Released: September 1982
1983 Peppermint Pig (EP)
  • Released: February 1983
Sunburst and Snowblind (EP)
  • Released: November 1983
1984 The Spangle Maker1 (EP)
  • Released: April 1984
1985 Aikea-Guinea (EP)
  • Released: March 1985
Tiny Dynamine (EP)
  • Released: 15 November 1985
Echoes in a Shallow Bay (EP)
  • Released: 29 November 1985
1986 Love's Easy Tears (EP)
  • Released: October 1986
1988 "Carolyn's Fingers" 2 Blue Bell Knoll
1990 "Iceblink Luck"
  • Released: 28 August 1990
38 22 4 Heaven or Las Vegas
"Heaven or Las Vegas" 9
1993 "Evangeline" 34 Four-Calendar Café
Snow (EP) 58
1994 "Bluebeard" 33 Four-Calendar Café
1995 Twinlights (EP)2 59
Otherness (EP)3 59
1996 "Tishbite" 34 Milk and Kisses
"Violaine" 56

  • 1 - "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" being the A-side.
  • 2 - "acoustic" EP, voice and piano.
  • 3 - remixed by Mark Clifford of Seefeel, companion to Twinlights


Year Title Additional information
1985 The Pink Opaque
  • Released: 30 December 1985
compilation album, joint release by 4AD (UK) and Relativity Records (US)
1991 The Box Set
  • Released: 4 November 1991
ten-disc box set consisting of all EPs up to that point and one disc of bonus material
1999 BBC Sessions
  • Released: 27 September 1999
compilation album of 8 BBC sessions recorded between 1982 and 1996
2000 Stars and Topsoil
  • Released: 16 October 2000
compilation album (1982-1990)
2005 Lullabies to Violaine: Singles and Extended Plays 1982-1996
  • Released: 21 November 2005
limited edition (10,000 units worldwide), four-disc box set of single and EP tracks
2006 Lullabies to Violaine, Volume 1: Singles and Extended Plays 1982-1990
  • Released: 20 March 2006
first two of the four discs in box set shown above
2006 Lullabies to Violaine, Volume 2: Singles and Extended Plays 1993-1996
  • Released: 20 March 2006
last two of the four discs in box set shown above

Live performances


  1. Paynes, Steph: "Robin Guthrie", Guitar Player, 25(2):25-26, 1991.
  2. Cocteau Twins offer previously unreleased live tracks via podcast
  3. 4AD News: Cocteau Twins Honoured At Q Awards

External links

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