Cocteau Twins were a Scottish band active from 1979 to 1997. They were formed in Grangemouth by Robin Guthrie (guitars, drum machine) and Will Heggie (bass), adding Elizabeth Fraser (vocals) in 1981 and replacing Heggie with multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde in 1983. The group earned critical praise for their ethereal, effects-laden sound and the soprano vocals of Fraser, whose lyrics often abandon recognisable language. They pioneered the 1980s alternative rock subgenre of dream pop.
The band’s early work drew influence from Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. After signing with the British record label 4AD in 1982, they released their debut album Garlands later that year. The addition of Raymonde in 1983 solidified their final lineup, which produced their biggest hit in the UK, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops”, peaking at No. 29 on the UK Singles Chart. In 1988, Cocteau Twins signed with Capitol Records in the United States, distributing their fifth album, Blue Bell Knoll, through a major label in the country. After the 1990 release of their most critically acclaimed album, Heaven or Las Vegas, the band left 4AD for Fontana Records, where they released their final two albums.
After nearly 20 years together, the band disbanded in 1997 in part due to issues stemming from the disintegration of Fraser and Guthrie’s romantic relationship. In 2005, the band announced that they would reunite to headline Coachella and embark on a world tour but the reunion was cancelled a month later after Fraser refused to perform on stage with Guthrie. In a 2021 interview, Raymonde confirmed that Cocteau Twins “will never reform
Victorialand is the fourth studio album by Scottish alternative rock band Cocteau Twins, released by 4AD in 1986. Working without bassist Simon Raymonde, vocalist Elizabeth Fraser and guitarist/producer Robin Guthrie opted for a subtler sound on the album.
Victorialand was recorded without bassist Simon Raymonde, who had been enlisted to collaborate on the second This Mortal Coil album Filigree & Shadow (1986). The duo of Guthrie and Fraser opted for a subtler sound which dispensed with most percussion and bass, instead consisting primarily of Guthrie’s “delicate guitar filigrees and lush, produced textures.” As is often the case with Fraser’s vocals, the lyrics are indecipherable. For example, Fraser took a passage from a non-English language book to write the lyrics for “Whales Tails”, not knowing what the words meant.
The album title refers to the part of Antarctica known as Victoria Land, after Queen Victoria (and forming the British claim to the continent, currently dormant under international treaty). Some of the track titles were borrowed from passages on the Arctic and Antarctic in David Attenborough’s The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth, the accompanying book to his 1984 BBC nature documentary series The Living Planet, for example “Throughout the dark months of April and May, the birds display to one another and finally mate” on page 54.
On its initial release in the UK, the vinyl edition was a 12″ disc which played at 45 rpm, which would be normal for an EP rather than a full album, which would normally play at 33⅓ rpm. This was due to difficulties in the mastering process in reproducing the minimal soundscapes. Some test pressings at 33⅓ rpm are known to exist.
An uncredited instrumental version of “Oomingmak” was used as a backing track for the credits at the end of the 4AD compilation video for Lonely Is an Eyesore. This instrumental version was later made available on the band’s 1991 4AD singles box set.
One critic described the album as ethereal and resembling “early Gong space-rock with much of the stuffing left out”. The Spin Alternative Record Guide called the album the Twins’ “simplest” and “most beautiful”. (wikipedia)
With Raymonde taking a break to work on the second This Mortal Coil album, Fraser and Guthrie made up the Cocteaus for the first full-length follow-up to Treasure. Rather than trying for a full-band approach, Fraser and Guthrie instead created a much more simply beautiful effort, with a relaxed air to it. Rhythms are subtler, with bass and drum machine often totally eschewed in favor of Guthrie’s delicate guitar filigrees and lush, produced textures. Fraser is, as always, in wonderfully fine voice; her words are quite indecipherable, but the feelings are no less strong for it. “Lazy Calm” starts things perfectly, as deep, heavily-treated guitar strums combine with a heavy flange and guest saxophone from Dif Juz member Richard Thomas. Other songs sparkle with a lovely vivaciousness.
Far from being stereotypical arty music to sit around and be gloomy to, two pieces especially shine with a gentle energy: “Fluffy Tufts,” with its many-layered ringing strings and Fraser’s overdubbed vocals; and the joyful “Little Spacey,” with a soft rhythm underlying more sheer electric loveliness. Guthrie adds heavy reverb and overdubbed lines to create the Cocteaus’ wash on such songs as “Throughout the Dark Months of April and May” and “Feet Like Fins,” the latter again featuring Thomas, this time on tablas. For all the sweet beauty of Victorialand, things end on a quietly dramatic note, but a dramatic one nonetheless. “The Thinner the Air” starts with treated piano and rather spooky guitar leads — the mysterious soloing is especially wonderful — while Fraser then sings with a slightly haunted feeling, concluding with slightly nervous wails. It’s an unexpected but effective touch for this fine record. (by Ned Raggett)
Elizabeth Fraser (vocals)
Robin Guthrie (guitar)
Richard Thomas (of Dif Juz) (saxophone, tabla)
a drum machine
01. Lazy Calm 6.34
02. Fluffy Tufts 3.06
03. Throughout The Dark Months Of April And May 3.05
04. Whales Tails 3.20
05. Oomingmak 2.43
06. Little Spacey 3.26
07. Feet-Like Fins 3.36
08. How To Bring A Blush To The Snow 3.51
09. The Thinner The Air 3.16
10. The Thinner The Air (Massive Attack Mix) 3.10
All songs written by Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie