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:

In late 1983 Cocteau Twins again added a third member: this time, Simon Raymonde, a London scenester and former member of the band The Drowning Craze. Raymonde played both bass and piano, adding another layer of depth to the Cocteau sound. A depth that was used to stunning effect on their third album (and third line-up), Treasure.

This is the sound that folks associate with Cocteau Twins. Treasure is where it all fell into place, where the elements of what was to become "the Cocteau Twins sound" happened. There was Liz Fraser's voice, powerful yet delicate, singing vocalless lyrics (an impressionism of the voice), with Simon Raymonde providing the supple rhythmic foundation upon which Robin Guthrie was to construct his majestic cathedrals of sound. This was the beginning of a burst of creative genius from Cocteau Twins, and the 8 releases they would crank out between 1984 and 1986 still stand, in my mind, as a testament to what can be done by sheer human willpower.

Treasure is a lush album of highly layered textures. It is often refined and restrained, yet there is real beauty in it as well.

The album begins with a cascading trill of harpsichord-like guitarwork, and Fraser's colorful singing in Ivo. This sounds like otherworldly court music: it is elegant and yet utterly bizarre. Fraser's voice is plainly out front, and also layered behind in soaring chorus and odd bird chirping sound. (Who needs backing vocalists when you can layer one vocalist several times over?) This song just builds and builds.

Eventually the formal pressure of Ivo explodes into Lorelei. This is one of my favorite Cocteau Twins songs ever. It moves along at a fast pace with a whirling fuzz of guitar, thudding drums, staccato piano hits, and layers and layers of Fraser. It moves along at an unstoppable pace. I love this song, and always have.

After that rock out, it's back to the otherworldly music for Beatrix. This sounds like the music that would be played as dance music in some Tolkein-esque fantasy world. It is constructed out of eerie deep bass, Fraser's trilling voice, and arpeggioing guitar. Is this in 3/4 time? The reason i am a critic and not a musician is that the intracacies of rhythm are foreign to me: i can never tell what the time signature is. At any rate, i can imagine waltzing to this.... It is a good tune, but odd.

Persephone is a throw back to their earlier, more drum machine intensive work. The drum machine thuds and sputters, and Guthrie plays with overdrive and not chorus on his guitar. This tune is harsher than everything else on the album, and Fraser's voice is more frantic. It's slightly out of place in the delicacy of this album, but is not a bad tune.

Pandora is a return to the beauty. Guthrie's guitar shimmers like a pool deep in some magical musical woodland. The drum machine hits the rims and plays a lighthearted jazzy beat. This is simply lovely, and vaguely jazzy. The jazz of a alternate reality.

Things slow down on Amelia, a decent song which wanders along as if it has no particular place to be. Fraser does some good work here, but in general this is the weakest track on the album.

Aloysius is up next, another dreampoppy tune. This song is constructed out of a simple sleighbell rhythm (lotsa sleighbell on this album -- Guthrie must have just gotten them), and a tingling, echoey guitar riff. If Treasure is the origin of the dreampop movement, then this song in particular is echoed by dozens of bands. It is light and tranquil, with Fraser's voice in layers singing her own roundel, and Raymonde providing rhythmic piano chording. This is a great song.

Cicely comes next. I think that this tune is probably the closest of anything on Treasure to the pseudo-goth of Head Over Heels. From the harsh 808 sounds to Raymonde's deep bass riffage to Guthrie's high-pitched guitar squeal to the almost jazz feel of Fraser's voice, this song provides continuity with their pevious work. It is not as strong as the bulk of that previous album, but is a good post-punk tune.

If Cicely echoes the past, then the tune that follows it, Otterly, points towards the future. This song is barely there -- it is very slow ambience. Fraser whispers over layers of guitar arpeggio forming a light haze. Going back and listening to the album in depth again, i am amazed at how much this song seems to predict the work that Guthrie was to pursue with Violet Indiana, his post-Cocteau band. It's not my favorite on the album, but it is a lovely interlude for the powerful tune which is to end the album.

The conclusion song is Donimo, and it is an epic track. I find that the Twins often revisit songs that are structured around the building of tension and it's eventual explosive release. It is a structure they work with very well: from Blue Bell Knoll to Treasure Hiding to Ooze Out and Away, Onehow, the Twins work well with songs that start with a slow burn and then explode.

Donimo builds slowly out of Fraser singing in what sounds like Latin, backed by a vague chorus sound (most likely constructed from a synthesizer patch of voices) and a bass drone. Then it kicks into overdrive with a flurry of drums and powerful guitar riffage. Fraser really lets loose on the chorus, showing her dynamic range. Then the song descends into quietude again with a great sequence of echoed guitar strumming, before exploding again with a wall of sound. A good formula, and this song works very well. I find that this formula works well to end an album: it is very cathartic. And after Donimo is finished, the listener is both exhausted and exhilarated. Just like you should be after an artistic statement as strong as Treasure.

On the whole, this is a stunning album. Much like its predecessor, i imagine that this was shockingly different when it was released. Of course, since then many bands have built careers out of exploring these sounds. Bands that are very good in and of themselves, like Slowdive, Seefeel (to a degree), Mahogany, and Love Spirals Downwards, to name but a few. And, as i stated above, this is the most stereotypically Cocteau-sounding album in their catalog.

I have found that a lot of non-dreampop fans consider Treasure to be too lush. It's textures are so rich and otherworldly that it is sometimes hard to gain an entry into the music. As such, it is not my recommendation for your first Cocteau Twins purchase. Although to be fair, a large number of fan list members would disagree with me on that.

Still, it is a stunning album for its challengingness. I think that, a full 18.5 years after it's release, this album still stands up. Sure, some of the drum beats sound oldish, but for the most part it is so unique that it mostly sounds very fresh.

It's a great achievement, but it's lack of approachability is what prompts me to give it only 6 sponges. My advice to you is this: if you have heard Cocteau Twins and liked what you have heard, then by all means run out and buy Treasure. If you are new to them, start with a more approachable album, like Head Over Heels or Heaven or Las Vegas.

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.