When the Cocteau Twins released their debut album Garlands in 1982, the band were dismissed in some quarters as a mere Siouxsie & The Banshees clone.
They weren’t – far from it – but it’s an understandable comparison; the crunching angular guitars by Robin Guthrie had a certain John McGeoch-era Banshees jaggedness to them, and proto-gothic basslines by original bassist Will Heggie are classic post punk fodder.
Yet such dismissals, and widespread unpicking in the press of the lyrical content and vocal performance of Elisabeth Fraser, proved to be pivotal points in their history. This early sound was soon put to one side, as Fraser quickly developed a visionary vocal style that beautifully disguised her lyrics. Once heard, it can never be forgotten, nor comprehended.
What happened next is where these two newly-reissued albums come in. Becoming a duo after Heggie's departure soon after the release of said debut, they soon came up with Head Over Heels (1983), and the progression is impressively explicit. Although some of the goth-ier aspects of their previous style were still apparent, the beginnings of the sound we love them for now are first developedTrea on this album; Fraser’s otherworldy stream of consciousness, and the newly robust percussion courtesy of the then modern but now rudimentary sounding drum machines which stood up to Guthrie's reverbed wall of sound. His ability to make one guitar sound like a million is evident here, his work on opener “Glass Candle Grenades” is almost overbearing, the furious spikiness of “In Our Angelhood” and the lysergic intensity of “In the Gold Dust Rush” is the story of a band in transition, the sound of their past with added benefit of a couple of years’ experience under their belt. To hear these alongside “Musette and Drums” and “Sugar Hiccup”, both long time indie standards, shows the vast speed they were travelling at in becoming one of the most important bands of all time.
That deal was sealed with the release of their third album, 1984's Treasure, which alongside Blue Bell Knoll in 1988 and Heaven or Las Vegas in 1990 is rightly held as a career highpoint. The introduction of Simon Raymonde on bass, thus making the band a trio till their demise in 1997, proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle. This release, though embraced by fans, was initially treated with dissatisfaction by the band – who classed it as the sound of working out how to operate as a trio – but the ethereal beauty of opener “Ivo”, the beat-less and spooked out “Beatrix”, the eerie ambience of “Otterley”, and the sheer dreaminess of “Pandora” is a million miles from their debut album just two years previously.
That leap from tentative beginnings to striding alchemists of sound in such a short amount of time hasn’t been replicated by any band since. It was a gift from another world, and the great thing was, it kept giving.