I first heard about Cocteau Twins via Chinese singer Faye Wong. Ethereal and otherworldly, a kind of rhapsodic glossolalia from the higher dimensions. Of course, in reality, there is another story behind the music. Betrayal, broken promises and denial, via The Guardian:
[Lead singer Elizabeth] Fraser’s decision to pull out of the reformation was made for the same reasons that contribute to the band’s split in the first place: she could no longer face working with the group’s guitarist, Robin Guthrie – her lover until 1993, and the father of her first child. But while they were together, the Cocteau Twins established themselves as one of the three main pillars of British alternative music, alongside New Order and the Smiths. Guthrie provided shimmering swathes of effects-laden guitar – surely the inspirtation for what then Radio 1 DJ Steve Wright’s spoof rock critic character called “sonic cathedrals of sound” – while real critics swooned over Fraser’s otherworldly and often incomprehensible vocals, one describing her singing – to her embarrassment – as “the voice of God.”
She and Guthrie were lovers for 13 years, during which time the difficulties any relationship faces were compounded by being in a band together. “We were so close, but certain responsibilities were too much for us,” Fraser says. The birth of their daughter Lucy-Belle in 1989 “didn’t impact as positively” as she’d hoped.
There were resentments on both sides, she says. They were “outgrowing each other” and Fraser was increasingly unhappy in the band. She resented “doing what people wanted all the time” and began to break free, a process documented on the unusually direct lyrics of the 1993 album Four-Calendar Cafe. The situation was sharpened by Guthrie’s dependency on alcohol and drugs, revelations (which came from him, after the band’s split) that shocked fans. But Fraser’s own unhappiness was unnoticed by her colleagues.
“I turned to others for some sort of reality check, [but] they hadn’t even noticed there was a problem,” she says. “And that was another thing that sent me absolutely round the bend. When you need things measured and it’s not happening it can make you feel quite mad.” Fraser endured a nervous breakdown, and underwent a course of psychotherapy. Today, she remains irked by the suggestion Guthrie made after completing rehab, that he’d needed the drugs to make the music.
“I don’t believe that and I don’t think he believed that in the beginning,” she insists. “I mean, I tried to keep up, but I find it difficult enough to communicate anyway. On drugs I just shut down. I just thought they’d get fed up with it, and get into something … healthy.” She allows herself a chuckle. “But it never worked out.”