“We’ve got nothing at all to say, just to listen to the music, that is what’s important.” – Robin Guthrie
All Together Now
In the mid-eighties The Cocteau Twins had a wee recording gap and they had not recorded an album with the full line-up since 1984’s ‘Treasure’. However, they were keeping themselves fairly occupied as they recorded an album with Brian Eno collaborator Harold Budd, ‘The Moon and The Melodies’, although it did not feature the Cocteau moniker but rather the bandmembers’ individual names. In the same year they released the largely acoustic and ambient ‘Victorialand’ under their own name but Raymonde was not able to record with Guthrie and Fraser as he was working with 4AD super-act This Mortal Coil. In the ensuing two years, Cocteau Twins signed with Capitol Records in the USA and their once again joined together to record their debut release on the label, ‘Blue Bell Knoll’.
A Room of My Own
The Cocteau Twins built their own studio so they could have as much time as they needed to experiment with sound. The studio did not feature a great big computer MIDI set up and didn’t use too many keyboards. Instead the time was spent treating and processing Guthrie’s and Raymonde’s guitars as they were more interested in the way the guitar was recorded rather than individual notes. This was much like Fraser who seemed more preoccupied with the sounds she could make with her voice rather than distinct words. This may have been because they were shy about their perceived lack of technical limitations and Guthrie subsequently criticized their heavy use of effects for covering up lack of songwriting skills. Interestingly, years later when Fraser did start to sing actual lyrics, her and Guthrie’s relationship was deteriorating which foreshadowed the break-up of the band.
Devout Cocteau Twins fans would have noticed a distinct auditory difference between the acoustic soundscapes of ‘Victorialand’ and their new album. While their ’86 album was devoid of percussion and had a more delicate feel, ‘Blue Bell Knoll’ was more of an immersive sonic assault more akin to a modern day Phil Spector induced “wall of sound”. The music manages to be dense, powerful and bold and at the same time dreamy, fragile and beautiful. They used percussive sounds like marimba, xylophone and a plucked harpsichord tucked into the layers. Fraser also used her voice more powerfully and in a manner she later called “exhausting” when speaking to The Guardian. She said it was “like an endurance test. I don’t intend to do that again.”
In the upcoming documentary by Hypnagogia Films entitled ‘Beautiful Noise’, Robert Smith of the Cure says of the Cocteau Twins’ music, “It was the most romantic sound I’d ever heard.” The Cocteau Twins came up the ranks with acts like The Cure, Jesus & Mary Chain and later My Bloody Valentine and with these bands helped inspire a generation of musicians who later most likely suffered from neck pain. The late eighties and early nineties saw a host of acts like Lush, Slowdive, Ride and Chapterhouse who undoubtedly took a musical cue from the Cocteaus and most likely so did Bristol acts like Massive Attack and Portishead and more recent bands like Sigur Ros. Fraser, Guthrie and Raymonde may have been inspired by acts like Siouxsie and The Banshees and musicians like Brian Eno, but in turn their own distinctive influence is still heard today.
Colleen listens to ‘Blue Bell Knoll’ for Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound here.
To hear more music that inspired and was contemporary to the Cocteau Twins’ check out our ‘Blue Bell Knoll’ Musical Lead- Up Playlist. You can check out photos of Cocteau Twins circa 1988 on our ‘Blue Bell Knoll’ Pinterest Board.