We’re heading back three decades for these classic reissues from the Scottish spangle makers
It’s safe to say it’s still the case that no one sounds quite like the Cocteau Twins. Maybe it’s because their records are literally inimitable or maybe it’s clear that anyone attempting to replicate that icy guitar, hollow bass and tight percussion, coupled with Elizabeth Fraser’s groundbreaking voice, would fail to come anywhere close. Either way, so unique and unparalleled is their style that they hardly need any introduction.
Following the 2014 represses of ‘Blue Bell Knoll’ and ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’, these two reissues from 4AD are a glance back to the Cocteau Twins’ earlier years. ‘Tiny Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A Shallow Bay’ collects together two EPs that were originally released just weeks apart in November 1985, while ‘The Pink Opaque’, a compilation of what could be called the band’s juvenilia, was their first US release in 1986.
The combined EPs show both the darkness and the playfulness in the Cocteaus’ music. There’s something of Bauhaus about the brooding bass work and there’s even a touch of prog to the guitar line on ‘Plain Tiger’ (only a touch, though), while tracks like ‘Melonella’ demonstrate just how mischievous Fraser could be with her voice. Even in this stage of their development, the Cocteaus’ sound is rich and full of excitement. The EPs make for heady listening, taking you on a dizzying ride through some exquisite instrumentation guided by the reassuring presence of Fraser’s indecipherable lyrics – an encounter made even more intense by having all eight tracks from the two releases back to back for the first time.
While ‘Tiny Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A Shallow Bay’ is a treat for the long-time Cocteaus fan, ‘The Pink Opaque’, as was originally intended, provides an excellent initiation for new listeners. Opening with the breathtaking ‘The Spangle Maker’, this compilation immerses you at the deep end of pre-1986 Cocteaus. There’s ‘Millimillenary’, Simon Raymonde’s first outing with Robin Guthrie and Fraser, and ‘Wax And Wane’ from their debut album ‘Garlands’, as well as cult favourites ‘Pearly Dewdrops’ Drop’ and ‘Aikea-Guinea’, both of which are still incredible tracks.
Some of the material featured on ‘The Pink Opaque’ demonstrates an edgier side to the band that might not fit with the sound that generally comes to mind when thinking about the Cocteaus, but the occasional heavier guitar work provides a delicate balance for those other truly celestial songs. Again, this record is an intense emotional experience that will make you shiver, shudder, spangle.
Considering how many of their contemporaries have found new homes in the hearts of today’s music lovers, it’s odd that the Cocteau Twins have not been granted quite the same recognition. This set of reissues might not catch the attention of the young and hip right away, but with the continuing popularity of weird, ululating female vocals – see the enduring love for Kate Bush, or Róisín Murphy, or even Grimes – it might just be the moment for a Cocteau Twins renaissance. ‘The Pink Opaque’ and ‘Tiny Dynamine’/‘Echoes In A Shallow Bay’ are the perfect opportunity to revisit a band like no other. Or to discover them for the first time.