COCTEAU TWINS-MILK AND KISSES.
COCTEAU TWINS-MILK AND KISSES.
The album that this article is about, is the final album by one of the best bands to come out of Scotland in the last thirty years. They were a hugely influential band, who were innovative and pioneering, and in turn, have influenced a new generation of musicians. During their career, they produced many groundbreaking singles, EPs’ and albums. Over time, they refined the glorious sound you can hear on this album. An album which I believe is one of the band’s best ever albums. The band are the Cocteau Twins, and the album is Milk and Kisses.
When the Cocteau Twins released Milk and Kisses in March 1996, they did not know that this would be their final album. In 1998, the band reconvened to record the follow up to Milk and Kisses, however, whatever happened at that meting we will never know, but it resulted in the Cocteau Twins splitting up. This meant Milk and Kisses is the last studio album by the band. In many ways, it was better that the band’s last album was one of their best, rather than limping on, recording mediocre and third rate albums, like some bands do. Now thirteen years after the band split up, when I think of the Cocteau Twins, I remember a band who, throughout their career, produced top quality music, music that was innovative, and music that like all good music, is timeless.
Milk and Kisses opens with Violaine. Violaine features the by now, typical Cocteau Twins sound, one that sounds both harsh and melodic at the same time. It begins with a bass playing, then a wall of guitars, with just a modicum of feedback, with drums sitting behind them, providing a steady beat. Afterwards, Liz Fraser sings, her ethereal voice, sweetly singing, lyrics that are both indecipherable and beautiful. Midway through the track, the tempo and volume increase, the guitars become sound becomes bigger, louder, much more frenzied. Quickly the pace drops back, and the track ends, a great song to start what was, their final album.
Serpentskirt is without a doubt one of the album’s highlights. This is a real downtempo track, one with a really laid back, sound and feel. It sees a magical combination of instruments combine with Liz Fraser’s glorious vocal to produce a great track. The track starts with the guitar playing slowly, drums join, playing at the same slow pace, leaving plenty space within the sound. Fraser’s vocal is crystalline, floating over the rest of the track. She brings life to the song, articulating perfectly the vocals. Sadly, just under four minutes later, this magical musical journey is over, leaving you contented, but saddened wanting more of the same.
Tishbite has a slightly harsher sound than Serpentskirt, until the vocal begins. That transforms the song. Suddenly, it is like light and shade, Liz Frazer sings. Suddenly, the contrast is remarkable, and highly effective. This combination of the harshness of the guitars, and the light and breathless vocal takes the track in an unexpected direction. It turns into something magical, masterful even. She can transform a track, with her graceful and fragile voice, something many vocalists would struggle to do. This is a good song, made all the better by Fraser’s wonderful vocal.
Half-Gifts begins with a sound that reminds me of a distant fairground. After that short interlude of sound, the vocal begins. This is much sooner that on other tracks. However, when you here Frazer’s delivery, you will thank the musical god’s that her appearance is so soon. Her vocal is quiet, understated, but clear and confident. The sound is unlike anything so far on the album. There is no harshness, just the sweetest of vocals. Everything sits far back in the mix, nothing is allowed to overpower the vocal. It’s a track where harmony is the key. Liz Fraser sings melodically, her ethereal voice always in control throughout this beautiful track. Quite simply, Half-Gifts is by far, the best song on Milk and Kisses.
After the tranquil sound of Half-Gifts, the tempo is raised, but the quality is consistent. Calfskin Smack is another beautiful track, where the harshness of earlier tracks is still missing. Instead, the focus is on producing another melodic masterpiece. Remarkably, the Cocteau Twins pull it off. The sound is fuller and bigger. Guitars and drums are allowed to play their part, and provide an important part of the soundscape, filling the spaces left by Fraser’s vocal. It is very much a track where the quality requires the drums and guitars to play their part as much as the vocal. Both do their jobs well, and in doing so, produce another great track, albeit, one very different to Half-Gifts.
On Rilkean Heart the tempo falls again, and the volume falls. Gone is the fuller, louder sound of Calfskin Smack, and we return to a sound that has more in common with Half-Gifts. This track benefits from having several hooks in it. One is apparent when the track begins. The song is much more catchy than many of the songs on the album. Having said that, you may struggle to whistle or sing a Cocteau Twins song. Rilkean Heart begins with a guitar solo, and Fraser quickly takes her place centre-stage, going on to produce another of her peerless performances. Her voice fits in perfectly with the rest of the track, which she sings over, using her full range within the track. A lovely track, one that sees Fraser’s ethereal and crystalline voice steal the show, again.
Ups sees the sound and style change yet again. As the track starts, I was left feeling that the track lacked the structure and discipline of other tracks. This dissipates quickly, and it’s business as usual. Fraser, Guthrie and Raymond pick up the pace, and concentrate on producing their usual top quality tracks. That they do, easily. The combination of the, occasionally, almost frantic sounding backing track, provided by Guthrie and Raymond and the calmness and tranquility that Fraser supplies combine well. Although Ups is a good track, it’s not quite of the quality of the other tracks.
Eperdu starts with waves cascading on the beach, a metallic guitar repetitively chiming and then Fraser sings. The song is spacious, the lyrics are mystical. When you listen to them you wonder at their meaning, what is their hidden meaning, if any? Like many of their lyrics, they leave you pondering their meaning. Fraser seems to have invented her own form of language, one loved by their fans. To describe it is like trying to juggle water, impossible. All I will say they have a beauty, you will appreciate, although you may struggle to master their phonetic meaning. Having said all that, Eperdu is a lovely gentle, meandering track, one I that I am sure you will enjoy letting it sonically envelop you.
There is both darkness and light present at the start of Treasure Hiding. The darkness is supplied by the guitar and drums, the shade by Fraser’s light and airy vocal. This contrast compliments each other. Throughout the track there is a conflict between dark and light, not dissimilar to good and evil. Suddenly, midway through the track, Fraser tires of playing a minor part, and rather than sing a behind everything comes to the fore, strident. However, Guthrie and Raymond outflank her, producing a wall of sound that overpowers her fragile voice. Even though this only lasts momentarily, it somewhat takes the edge of this otherwise good track.
Milk and Kisses, and therefore, the Cocteau Twins recording career, ends with Seekers Who Are Lovers. As the last song in a long and glorious career, you feel yourself willing Guthrie, Raymond and Fraser to produce a musical masterpiece out of the bag. This you want to be their Ulysses moment. They don’t disappoint. Out goes the wall of sound, in comes a much more subdued and temperate performance from Guthrie and Raymond. They hold themselves back, Fraser steps forward, and produces a performance that is brilliant. She sings the song with passion and feeling, as if knowing this is the end of their career. Not only is it one of her best performances on the album, but one the best in her career. Her voice soars, gracefully, its ethereal beauty apparent and transparent. It has a classical quality, a sweetness, a grace. Too soon, the song is over, the Cocteau Twins exit stage left, bringing the curtain down on a long and glorious career.
During the time I spent looking back at the Cocteau Twins’ career, I was struck by the depth of quality within their back catalogue. There is a huge amount of music for a newcomer to discover. If you are one of the people who have never taken the time to listen to their music, now is the time to do so. In a previous article I reviewed Heaven Or Las Vegas, in this article Milk and Kisses. Both are wonderful albums which deserve a place in your record collection. Quickly they will become as familiar to you as old friends. You will grow to love them, cherish them, forgive their faults and foibles. Milk and Kisses was the final album the Cocteau Twins produced, and having listened to it several times recently, this was a good way for them to end their career. Better to go out in a blaze of glory, having produced a brilliant album, than end up mercenary stadium rockers wearing cowboy boots and Stetsons, like a certain fourth rate band that springs to mind. Like Neil Young says better to burn out than fade away. My sentiment exactly. Standout Tracks: Serpentskirt, Half-Gifts, Rilkean Heart and Seekers Who Are Lovers.
COCTEAU TWINS-MILK AND KISSES.