Cocteau Twins: Cherry-Coloured Funk
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
I’m a shamefully fair-weather Cocteaus fan. In theory they could be my favourite band in the whole wide world, but only if that rotund world obeys the simplistic mathematician’s approach to music. You know, like A bit of goth + Somewhat shoegazy + Enigmatic weirdness = BEST BAND EVER!!!. This is the same kind of thinking which leads to conceptual abominations like Chocolate + Mustard + Smoked Salmon = BEST MEAL EVER!!! and should be reserved only for those brave souls willing to lay their health on the line for potentially minuscule increments of human progress.
So yes, despite an encouraging list of audio ingredients the Cocteau Twins had often failed to pique the taste buds. Treasure was excellent, of course. I had a lot of admiration for an album which could still be heard reverberating around other rooms in the house long after the CD had stopped spinning. Likewise, I was suitably impressed when I discovered that listening in the bathroom produced enough power to aid continental drift. Yet other experiments with samples of material didn’t hold my interest for any meaningful length of time. Where once Elizabeth Fraser’s radical approach to pronunciation and her perfection of the vocal-as-instrument had delighted and intrigued, outside the context of Treasure her techniques tended to come across as ... well, just rather irritating. Kind of like trying to hold a conversation with someone whilst another person emits a varied yet persistent humming sound. There were certainly gems to be found (late-era b-side “Alice” for one), but never enough to reel me into the land of full blown interest.
At this point Heaven or Las Vegas made an appearance, based on the recommendation of a friend who said it was “the soundtrack for a goth casino.” As that’s a perfect description, it’s one I won’t attempt to improve upon. Naturally I couldn’t resist a wacky combination of gambling, flashy neon lights, and too much eye makeup, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the effect “Cherry-Coloured Funk” would have.
You see, it broods.
The opening moments are pure hands-glued-to-chin, head-shrinking-into-body-like-a-turtle introspection. As ever, I’m at a loss to suggest what Ms. Fraser might be singing about, but her languid, elongated phrasing and rather sombre tone hints at problems ahead. The brief snatches that semi-cohere in my mind paint a confusing picture: “bills,” “eyes of glass,” “instinct,” “everything else.” Unified, perhaps, by the allure of a roulette wheel or card table, or formed from the projection of my own thematic interpretation. All of this, whilst mesmerizing phased guitar lines undulate in smoky swirls, processed to the limits of recognition.
Then everything changes.
Liz pulls the ol’ switcheroo and lets rip the undisputed champion of gorgeous falsetto, a rallying cry that morphs and dissipates and reforms into every phonetic option under the sun before lodging inside my brain as a defiant “I’m askiiiin’ yooooooou…” It’s a clarion call to match any iconic RAWK chorus you care to mention, and in one precious instant the whole track is turned upon its head. Suddenly we realise we’ve been lured in, seduced by the suggested ennui and unprepared for our trip to orbit. We’ve crested the peak of a physics-defying reverse rollercoaster, sending us careering upwards towards shimmering emotional release ... and beyond. The pitch continues to rise, retaining sincerity even as it descends into a confused mass of sounds, and the full glittering majesty of the album is unfurled in a sparkling display of chime and song.
I had only to hear it once. That moment sold me on Heaven and Las Vegas for life. Others may not feel it right away; something I quite understand, as I’ve yet to experience moments of realisation with much of the Cocteaus catalogue. Please though, listen again—stick with it and join me when you’re ready. We can walk together through the phosphorescent beams and dazzling opulence.
Come on, I’m askiiin yoooooouuuuu ....