There is nothing harder in pop songwriting than coming up with a great lyric. It’s true, lyrics aren’t everything. Great singers paired with the right melody can allow one to overlook an average lyric. But nothing lasts longer in my stereo than a song with lyrics that are complex enough to allow the song to be reinterpreted over time. I don’t necessarily mean complex like Dylan, although he obviously has written an unbelievable amount of great lyrics. Something like Stand By Me is quite simple, but has a certain Biblical depth to it that seems bottomless.
But sometimes it is great to get away from lyrics and into pop songs that sound like pure expression. No one does this better than the Cocteau Twins. Not only is Robin Guthrie an exceptional guitar player, whose echoey sound can be seen as a precursor to many 90’s acts like My Bloody Valentine, but singer Elizabeth Fraser has one of the most expressive voices of all time. The songs are drenched in reverb and delay, making it hard to tell at times if she is using words at all or singing in her own made up language. (I think she does both, but which she is doing is often hard to tell.) I’ve written about them before, but diving back into their music has made me think that they don’t get the amount of attention they deserve. Although they share certain sonic characteristics with their peers, they are definitely unique.
There really isn’t better music to dream to, whether that is at night while falling asleep or on a long walk while daydreaming. It’s like stepping into a strange sonic fairytale or a beautiful renaissance tapestry made out of sound. Whether it is a clear and starry night or a rainy day trapped indoors, the music seems to fit. Yet all of this is almost pointless. It’s pure emotion captured in sound, and really defies easy description due to this.
All of their music is not the same. They did start out very early on almost like a goth band before quickly finding their feet. There were some later records that were less impressionistic. But for the most part they were who they were.
Strangely enough singer Elizabeth Fraser has only released a couple songs since the demise of the band. It’s almost like she was channeling the spirit and then woke up one day and realized her time had passed. As a starting point I really love their collection Stars and Topsoil which covers their 1982-1990 period. Many of their albums are worth owning, but fans debate as to which ones. (Though Treasure seems to be loved by almost all.) As far as getting your feet wet I think this not only demonstrates what made them unique, but is also highly accessible.