Amelia, by Cocteau Twins

The music produced by the Cocteau Twins is a great example of how popular music can be created without following usual song forms, and instead relying on instrumental and vocal textures to generate a mood. Today this concept is used in popular music and films quite often, but it was very unique in the beginning of the 1980s when Cocteau Twins released their first albums. The delay effects on Robin Guthrie’s guitars, the drum machines, and above all Elizabeth Fraser’s voice did not sound like anything else at the time. Robin Guthrie described the music as impressionistic, a term that fits well their 1984 album Treasure . In the 2014 documentary Beautiful Noise, Robert Smith from the Cure says Treasure was the album he was listening to as he was getting ready for his wedding because it is the most romantic sound he ever heard.

I love the first two albums, Garlands and Head Over Heels, but Treasure remains my favorite with its dreamy guitars, incomprehensible lyrics, Fraser’s ethereal voice and the beats Robin Guthrie was able to produce from the EMU Drumulator drum machine. The EMU drum machine was released a year before the album was recorded and immediately featured all over Howard Jones’ Human’s Lib album from 1983. While not as ubiquitous as the Roland TR-808 drum machine, it was used by a number of popular artists, most recognizably on Tears for Fears’ Shout and Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts. Guthrie installed the Rock Drums sound chip to get those bombastic drum sounds. Back then add-on sounds were actual memory chips that you had to put into the machine’s circuit board. Programming the machine was a tedious effort, and if the drum track was a not a trivial pattern repeating itself but a more elaborate sequence as in many songs on Treasure, you had your work cut out for you.

The band gelled into its steady lineup just before the recording of Treasure, adding bass player Simon Raymonde. This change was significant to the overall shift towards the seemingly structure-less forms and dreamy state of mind. The song names are all pseudo-mythological single words. Elizabeth Fraser on the song titles choice: “I thought it was a really good idea because I thought, Well, what are people gonna see in these names? They’re gonna realize it’s got nothing to do with mythology and all that bollocks. Well, it’s not bollocks, but I foolishly thought people wouldn’t think that we were into that sort of thing.”

The album got the band an increased exposure in the media and bigger turnout in live performances. The album peaked at #29 in the national album charts on November 18 1984 and stayed in the chart for 8 weeks (The #1 position that week was held by Wham!, quite the range in music tastes by British record buyers). On the indie chart they fared much better and peaked at #2. However the band did not appreciate the media attention that ensued. Guthrie: “I’ve always detested Treasure. Not because of the record, but because of the vibe at the time, when we were pushed into all that kind of arty-farty pre-Raphaellite bullshit. And so I was just really ashamed of that record.” In a blunt move at a time when music videos were a must for chart success, the band released no singles and no official videos to accompany the album.

Here is Amelia from that fantastic record, one of the best albums produced by the 4AD label. I picked Amelia because of the atmosphere created by the guitar layers, the drum machine programing and the intricate vocal parts.

Who’ve been wounded
Who should wound her
Heart on the grasp
Who but who put on the heart

He, and me, along said we, but burn
He, and me, along said we, but burn
He, and me, along said we, but burn
Hounded by the mask, but then

Wounded on the grasp
Wounded on the grasp
Wounded on the grasp

Wounded on the grasp
Wounded on the grasp
Wounded on the grasp

 

Categories: Songs

Tagged as: ,

Leave a Reply