Pearly DewDrops Drop, Pink Orange Red, Fluffy Tufts and Sugar Hiccup may sound like distant delectations from an olde worlde sweetshop emporium but those of a certain age and disposition will of course recognise theses as seminal song titles from one of the 80s most iconic indie bands. No-one made music quite like The Cocteau Twins, the Scottish trio releasing a stream of albums and 12”s (turn it up kids) via the equally respected and innovative record label 4AD.
While it feels that some of the post punk/indie brigade have never really left us, The Cocteau Twins, very much in keeping with their distinctive wispy dreamy sounds, simply drifted away as though carried on a cloud. They did release some music in the 90s but once the relationship between singer Elizabeth Fraser and the band’s visionary instrumentalist, Robin Guthrie, started to fracture – not helped by the latter’s well-documented drug problems – it became clear that the band’s halcyon days could now only be spoken of in the past tense.
The diminutive frontwoman has sporadically surfaced since the turn of the millennium, often working creatively with other artists but without seeking or receiving much acclaim. Now she has resurfaced for the first time in 13 years – Kate Bush-like – in the form of Sun’s Signature, working alongside percussionist Damon Reece (Spiritualized, Massive Attack, Lupine Howl).
While Kate required a hit sci-fi show to spark her renaissance, Liz has summarily conjured up a whole new collection of songs – well five for starters – which isn’t bad. There are naturally parallels to draw with her timeless career with the Cocteau Twins, the charmingly named simplistic song titles for one, ‘Underwater’, ‘Bluedusk’, ‘Apples’... .
The first track ‘Underwater,’ in which we joyously first get to hear Liz’s luscious tones once again, and seemingly unaffected by the passing of more than three decades. The track is bewitching of course but perhaps slightly perkier than the Cocteau Twins, who always carried an inner darkness within their eclectic rainbow showers.
The other remarkable, near transcendental, feature of the goose-bump-inducing Cocteau Twins was the way in which Liz sung in gobbledygook, or at least some strange pagan-like tongue that was utterly indecipherable to the rest of us mere mortals. While not reproducing that on this comeback release, there is still plenty of the Cocteau Twins’ mesmerising charm on a song such as the enticing ‘Golden Air’, gentle grooves that you could lay a baby’s head safely on knowing that it would not so much as stir.
What would have been painful to accept would have been to see Liz return but without the vocal voracity to match some of the classics that could, and usually did, hold an audience in the palm of their hand. Pearly Dew Drop, anyone?
No danger. Liz is too much of a perfectionist to even contemplate a comeback, for that is essentially what this is, if she felt there was any deterioration in her ability to hit the high notes and coerce them into cotton wool balls as she did previously with such effortless grace.
‘Bluedusk’ further reassures that Sun’s Signature – as we really should get used to calling it – is a project with sustainability should the duo wish to make this experiment more than a fleeting one. Trying to compare Liz’s voice to anyone is akin to juggling carrots dipped in gravy, although listening to such an aching lament as ‘Bluedusk’ the aforementioned Kate Bush certainly does come into your vision.
Welcome back, Liz.
Sun’s Signature is out now via Partisan Records
Review by Paul Castles
- Golden Air
- Make Lovely the Day