Sharoma Lullabies to Violaine

Lullabies to Violaine

Lullabies to Violaine

A new Cocteau Twins retrospective release

The new Cocteau Twins release is a joy to behold. Lullabies to Violaine is a four disc box set of every single one of the band's EP and single tracks. It's an essential companion to their album releases and proof that fewer bands have been as prolific in recent years. A standard 'Singles' collection for most bands will fill two CDs at most, yet here is a set that fills four. The package itself deserves mention. The four CDs are encased in high quality cartridge paper (apparently to be known as 'Curious Soft Touch Milk', a material that certainly feels soft and almost moist), with varying floral designs that echo the various sleeves of the releases. The packaging is supreme quality, and its wonderful aesthetics are immediately apparent.

The music concealed beautifully within is of course the superior of any exquisite packaging. The Cocteau Twins are unique in the world of music for creating lush soundscapes. Songs of unparalleled atmospheric beauty, as epic as an opera in their scope and as a gentle as a summer breeze in their serenity. The amount of material the band released between 1982 and 1996 is quite outstanding. No fewer than eight albums, ten EPs and nine single releases. Their style and sound varied throughout, from early beginnings when they struggled to shake off comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees, to more refined days when their sound was more polished yet still retained the melodic charm of older releases. This release documents their progression from beginning to end and contains almost every single non-album track they recorded and released.

The first EP, Lullabies, is initiated with a driving trance-like track that in many ways is unique in the Cocteau Twin's discography. Feathers-Oar-Blades has a punishing drum beat that never lets go of the listener, while the bass line pulsates in the background giving Elizabeth Fraser's vocals the space they deserve. The guitar wails frantically in the wings and the song never lets up, astounding virgin listeners and leave them lusting for more. This first EP was primary step in the band's evolution. The first LP was a sombre and moody affair, and through experimental EP releases the band would hone their style to perfection. Highlights from these early days include the aforementioned track and the opening title track to the Peppermint Pig EP. The bass is still the dominant rhythm keeper, dictating the sound of all the songs. This would change with as 1983 dawned and the band delved deeper into the realms of guitar reverb, distortion and echo, matched so perfectly with Liz Fraser's indecipherable lyrics.

From the Flagstones is a typically relaxed affair, and the highlight of the Sunburst and Snowblind EP. 1984's The Spangle Maker EP is really where the best material starts. The highlight on this release is the alternate version of Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops, which during the break in the middle features an ingenious use of flange. The halcyon days of the Cocteau Twins had truly arrived. The onslaught of the first two EPs is left well and truly behind in favour of a more wistful approach. The moods swing from upbeat to downcast, and the first disc ends on an especially high point in the discography. The Aikea-Guinea EP is perhaps the strongest EP release by the band, and no words suffice to describe the beauty it evokes. The vocals and lyrics of Liz Fraser will remain unsurpassed. The use of her voice as a unique instrument alongside the gentle drumming and acoustics of Robin Guthrie are best demonstrated on this EP. The glaring absence of the Millimillenary song at this point will baffle hardcore fans of the band. Previously only available on a couple of compilations (an NME tape and The Pink Opaque), its omission here is the only drawback to this collection.

The second CD in this collection opens with what are known among fans as the 'butterfly EPs', due to the nature of the song titles. It's also an apt simile. The opener Pink Orange Red is a personal highlight. The remainder of the second CD is in the same style. By the mid '80s the band had settled on a sound, and concentrated it on 1988's Blue Bell Knoll album. Love's Easy Tears from 1986 is the penultimate EP on the second CD and is similar in many ways to the Victorialand album from the same year. The second disc is wrapped up with the first single the band released. Previously they'd only released albums and EPs, and to gain exposure, or perhaps to emphasize a new direction into more accessible realms, the band released Iceblink Luck backed with two b-sides. It's taken from what is arguably the band's finest and certainly most consistent album Heaven or Las Vegas and hints at a more accessible 'pop' music approach.

The third CD starts in the early '90s with the releases from the time of Four-Calender Café, including an odd couple of Christmas covers. Though perhaps light hearted fun, they are detriment to the rest of the collection. The highlight is Bluebeard which is a lot more relaxed and mellow than earlier releases. In common with the accessible nature of the songs from this period (for example, you can actually hear what Liz Fraser is singing) the band had opted to release singles instead of EPs. Minimalist compositions also make up the bulk of the b-sides from this later period. Highlights include the excellent Three-Swept and Smile, and Alice.

The Twinlights EP that ends the third CD is a return to acoustic territory, offering, amongst others, an alternate version of Pink Orange Red with vocals reworked to excellent effect. Of course, the first two discs are superior to the second two, but there is excellent material still to be heard. The fourth disc begins with the Otherness EP, which was a strange release that featured ambient remixes of songs from the forthcoming 1996 album Milk & Kisses. The rest of the compilation is made up of material from the band's final single releases. Violaine is the strongest track, and sounds more like the mid '80s output of the group.

So, all in all, a wonderful compilation of songs. Cocteau Twins fans have been waiting for such a release for many years, and newcomers might want to wait until the set is broken up in later this year into two releases. The first part, which is the first two discs, is well recommended and the second, which is discs three and four, is perhaps only for completists, though it only pales in comparison to the excellence of the band's early releases.