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Sunday, 18 December 2011

~Winter Wassailing~#23: Christmastime - Cocteaus & Wine

It has to be said that, for me, the Cocteau Twins are probably the most paradoxical band that I can think of. You see, while on one hand they are these purveyors of ethereal, dreamlike, otherworldly slices of achingly beautiful perfect alt-pop, topped of with one of the most enchanting and headspinning vocalists of all time; there's also the fact that they come from Grangemouth!
Now this may mean absolutely NOTHING to the majority of our readers, but Grangemouth is an industrial shit-hole of a town, a mere nine miles from where I live. Sometimes it's hard to equate such cultural beauty could ever have sprung from such a dreary and soulless place.
Also, because they come from so near by, it was also commonplace to see them around. This kind of de-mystifies things a tad. Surely creators of such captivating spectral musical alchemy should live in golden palaces on Mars and only visit our sphere once in a while to drop off gems of radiant wonder? But no....there's guitarist and sonic innovator Robin Guthrie sitting in The Barrelhouse on the Graham's Road in Falkirk in 1989, trying to enjoy a pint whilst all around him have gathered a rum bunch of overly keen teen/early 20-somethings (of which I was one), pestering him with questions as ludicrous as "What's Nick Cave like?" or "What's Jim Reid like?" and then with one almighty penny-dropping moment of realisation all voices chime "Have you met Morrissey?? Have you met Morrissey??". To say he looked pissed off would be an understatement.
The Cocteau Twins, of course, have now become a kind of by-word for Eighties Indie Music; like The Smiths, The Cure or New Order they just ooze 'Eighties Indie'. Darlings of the NME, especially in their formative years, it's very safe to say that the Cocteaus delivered some of the greatest records of that much maligned decade, and in their unique sound and equally idiosyncratic sleeve artwork and videos, created a world of their own, something only the very best bands can ever achieve.
I have planned to write about their main body of work at some later date but, as this is a Wassail, I'm going to take a look at their Festive release from December 1993.
I have to confess that when I first heard that the Cocteaus were releasing a version of 'Frosty The Snowman' I though it was another of the NME's jokes, something along the lines of when they announced that Morrissey and Jimmy Somerville were to release a duet entitled 'Away With You, Laddie'. And yet there it was, on Radio 1, on the daytime playlist (I'm sure it was Simon Mayo who championed it), something their entire previous output had failed to muster.
As you would imagine, it's not a carbon copy of all previous interpretations, it's most definitely a Cocteau Twins song; instantly recognisable by both the production and, of course, Elizabeth Fraser's extraordinary vocal performance....

Before we discuss the flipside (another seasonal treat), let's talk about THAT voice. Nothing prepares you for the impact of hearing Elizabeth Fraser's singing for the first time; at times it doesn't even sound human, like some swirling cumulus of angels and aliens, leaping octaves in a single breath and making you feel like Heaven is holding a fireworks display inside your head. I find it really sickening that people fall over themselves to proclaim that singers like the late Amy Winehouse, or Duffy or Adele have these incredible voices, lazily comparing them to Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield, while Liz Fraser is genuinely gifted in a way comparable to Asha Bhosle, Ofra Haza, Shahin Badar or even Bjork. Even voice specialist Tona de Brett claimed Liz had one of the greatest voices she had ever heard, so how come she's not hailed as one of our greatest ever vocalists except by us here at the ~Streetlamp~?
So, now that I've gotten that off my chest we can have a listen to the other side of the record and we find another Cocteau-esque interpretation of a Christmas classic, 'Winter Wonderland'....

Interestingly, and with true Independent stance, the Cocteaus deleted the single as soon as it hit the national charts; something that in this age of Cowell-saturated demeaning of the Christmas spirit , I find rather satisfying!

These days all that seems to emanate from Grangemouth is over-priced fuel and clouds of suspicious gas. Oh for the halcyon days when Heaven could be found within the Central Belt.


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