Menu | Rating System | Guest Book | Archived Reviews:
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

  Cocteau Twins  
Original Release Date:
Re-release date:
Reviewed by:

It is hard for me to evaluate this album. It is, in many respects, a sign of its time. It is the product of a group of youngsters (Liz was 18, Robin barely 20) experimenting within the sudden freedom of the punk explosion. It was a band finding it's feet.

I find Garlands to be far more interesting historically than musically. By itself it is a decent post-punk/proto-goth album. The Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees were doing similar things at the time, and doing it much better. (From what i have read, at the time of this release the Twins were often compared to Siouxsie & the Banshees).

Of course, i first heard this album in the early 90's, long after my pretentious teenage goth faze had burnt itself out, and after years of listening to Victorialand and the like. As such, it was a tremendous disappointment. It wasn't a lush wall of dense wandering sounds. It's more straightforward. If later Cocteau Twins music is hazy, then Garlands is blunt.

However, in some respects it is unfair to compare this to what was to come later. Let me try and evaluate it's context as "the debut album".

At the time of the recording of Garlands, Cocteau Twins were a trio: Robin Guthrie on guitar and drum machine, Liz Fraser on voice, and Will Heggie on bass. Heggie was sort of the leader of the group in a sense: his sinuous post-punk bass riffage drives all 8 of the songs here. It is this strong bass underpining that gives the album a real 1982 post-punk feel. I would compare this to the way Jah Wobble's bass drives Public Image Limited's Metal Box, or the way Peter Hook's basswork drives New Order's Power, Corruption, and Lies.

So Heggie's bass is the foundation of the music of Garlands. Layered over that bass is a clunky drum machine, the Roland 808 if you believe the press. This was the standard drum machine for a long time, and it's presence here is very typical. None of the beats are challenging: they are there to provide a sort of metronomic presence in the songs.

Robin Guthrie plays some of his harshest, punkest riffs on this album. The guitar whirs and screams with lots of high-end trebly distortion. His playing here is not as subtle as what he later became known for. Still, it is very in keeping with the times.

The final element to the sound is Liz Fraser's voice. When Garlands came out, i i am sure that her singing was very unique. She squeals and warbles her way through lyrics that hover at the edge of comprehension. Her voice is harsh here, not as refined as it would become, but there is a certain power and presence to it.

But like i said earlier: they were young and this album shows that. However, for what it is, it's pretty good. It's a dark, moody, bass and squealing guitar laden lost epic of the post-punk scene. For folks into this type of music, Garlands is something to check out.

The album starts off with Blood Bitch diving head first is the deep bass. This is followed by Wax and Wane, a song which Mr. Guthrie was to remix in 1985 for the band's first American release. I know the version from The Pink Opaque better, and it still strikes me as odd to hear this orginal mix. Here, the drum machine takes center stage, clinking it's way through the beat. It is surrounded, enveloped, by Heggie's bass in an unstoppable riff -- perhaps the best he has ever done (although i say that with the caveat that his later work is largely unknown to me). Fraser and Guthrie see-saw their way through the melody. The overall effect: a fever dream of paranoia. It's a great post-punk song.

The Twins follow that up with But I'm Not, a song in which Fraser cuts loose vocally. She sings a deep, husky, jazz-influenced (Etta James perhaps?) style that she wouldn't really return to for years. Her vocal theatrics make this song noteworthy, because otherwise the music is unremarkable after the intense riffage of Wax and Wane.

Blind Dumb Deaf is up next, and is probably the weakest track on the album. It seems to be The Robin Guthrie Show, as the drum machine and guitar dominate the proceedings. Not bad per se, just not as good as the rest of the album.

The next track, Shallow Then Halo is one i nver really noticed until i listened to the re-mastered CD. I think that this tune, of all the ones here, really benefitted the most from the re-mastering. It sounds much less muddy in remastered form than it did in the original. Of course this is true of the whole album, but Shallow Then Halo had the most mud removed. In general, this is a good gothy tune. Fraser's voice is nicely layered, and you can almost uderstand her vocals here. The bass and guitar complement each other very well too. Suddenly, i find i like this song. Odd.

The Hollow Men is less goth more dub, as the drum machine and bass notes echo about. Next is the title track, which is a good rocking tune. And finally, the album ends with the decent but not stellar Grail Overfloweth.

Overall, this isn't a bad album. On it's own. It is a very typical album for the early 1980's, and it has a few tracks that standout among the general mass of music from that time.

One thing about the 2 versions i now own. Until this version came out, the version you were most likely to encounter was a combined CD that included an early Peel Session and the 7" single for Speak No Evil b/w Perhaps Some Other Aeon tacked onto the end. That makes it a 14 track CD, and those extra tracks are pretty good tunes in this same general vein. This re-mastered edition strips the "added bonus tracks" from the album, and restores it to it's orignal 8 song glory. After years of hearing the compiled edition, this sounds somewhat incomplete to me. When Grail Overfloweth peters out, i expect to hear Dear Heart. It's wierd that it just ends, but i guess that is my problem, caused by my familiarity with the compiled edition only.

And the re-mastering really works here. Guthrie did a fine job. Each song is less muddy than it was on the original release, and the songs shine in the added clearness. I guess that i kind of wish that Guthrie had remastered all of it, the album, the Peel Session, and the 7", and put out the whole thing. But oh well. Those Peel tracks made it onto the BBC Sessions disc. But i am not sure if they were re-mastered there.....

At any rate, i would heartily endorse this record to fans of that early 80's proto-goth/early new wave/post-punk sound. Cocteau Twins had a unique interpration of that particular cultural zeitgeist, and while they had better work to come, this is certainly a worthwhile listen for fans of the genre. If, however, you are a Cocteau/dreampop fan, be forewarned: this is pre-dreampop Cocteau Twins. It's not what you think of when you think Cocteau Twins.

Related Links:

This review is part of a series. Here is the whole thing, in order:

Thoughts on "re-mastering"
Head Over Heels

Also, i have previously reviews Stars and Topsoil, a greatest hits compilation from 2000.


Return to the top of this page. | Return to the Album Review menu.