Four-Calendar Café - 1993

Four-Calendar Café Know Who You Are At Every Age
Theft, And Wandering Around Lost
Oil Of Angels
My Truth

And then, suddenly, there was Four-Calendar Café. Few were prepared for the major changes in style and atmosphere compared to anything else the band had done before. With the exception of Summerhead (and to some extent Bluebeard and Pur) the songs are laidback, quiet, sensitive. Liz' lyrics can readily be grasped and most of the time they do make good sense as well. And where they do they are apparently very personal - almost embarrassingly so. Her proverbial shyness and lack of confidence feature very clearly in some of the songs, and some others are definitely about her (then) recent motherhood.

This is the first Cocteau Twins album where the songs can be appreciated for their lyrics - but the progress in this respect comes at a cost. The audacious style that had them play several themes intertwined, leading to some of their best tracks on Heaven Or Las Vegas, has gone. There are few vocal acrobatics, few impressive guitar chords and at some moments the music tends to be just a background for the vocals.

From a purely musical point of view Four-Calendar Café is probably not their best album ever, but most of the songs are still very enjoyable, and they gain extra depth by the hidden meanings of the lyrics.

Know Who You Are At Every Age

This is one of the songs that Liz apparently wrote about her own feelings, in this case possibly describing her struggle to stand firmer in life.

Liz sounds very vulnerable and shy in this song, and the arrangement of the song emphasizes this mood. No strong chords. No clear melodies. Just the necessary accompaniment with some occasional melancholic guitar mixed in. Everything paints a picture of uncertainty and lack of confidence.

The song title tells us more about the problem she is coping with. How can you be confident if you don't know who you are? Liz tells us in the song that she has been told she can't quite find her true self unless she can bring herself to cry. This is expressed most explicitly in the interlude:

Cry, cry, cry 'til you know why
I lost myself, identify
The lyrics do not make it quite clear whether she is in favour of this method or against it, and so we are left with a second level of uncertainty. But in a way this feels right. After all if she were to express a firm opinion on the matter this would contradict the entire song's theme.


There are quite a few contemplating songs on Four Calendar Café, but on Evangeline we find Liz' at her melancholic best. Along with some beautiful instrumentation this makes for a very creative effort. The band apparently felt likewise since this track was released as a CD-single as well, although surely most of this song's subtleties are lost on the general public.

The song starts out with one of Liz' many wordplays - the second phrase quite clearly goes Know who you are at every age, the title of the first album track. We hear Liz sing to a very slow rhythm, though we hear many different instruments. The psychological nature of the song becomes apparent almost immediately, especially in the chorus :

There is no going back
I can't stop feeling now
I am not the same
I'm growing up again
With a beautifully tuned guitar at the heart of the melody the song appears to flow towards its conclusion without any further interruption. But just when the song is all but over it suddenly moves into a different gear. We hear a different key, the music becomes more intense, and Liz presents us some of her most creative lines yet. How about
I had to fantasize
Just to survive
I was a famous artist
Everybody took me seriously
The text is painfully ironic, and once again tells us about the tribulations going on in Liz's mind in those days. The incredible aspect of it all is that she managed to put such troublesome lyrics onto such beautiful music.


Not everyone was immediately pleased by the band's new musical direction, but few would argue there was anything wrong with this wonderfully dynamic track, combining a cheerful melody with decipherable lyrics.

Bluebeard in fact is special in more than one way. Not only are the lyrics easily understood, the song title, rather than presenting an exercise in decryption, also points strongly to their subject. Yes, for once did the band produce a song about that topic they always avoid yet most other song writers can hardly do without: a relationship. Even if the lyrics do not quite tell a comprehensive story they certainly contain the most clearcut chorus of the Cocteau's career:

Are you the right man for me?
Are you safe, are you my friend?
Or are you toxic for me?
Will you mistreat me or betray all my confidence?
Those lines may appear to breathe doubt and uncertainty, the melody of the song is lively and optimistic, and Liz herself sounds in great mood as well. The guitars are nice and the sound is warm and comforting. Things get more and more creative towards the end, with a nice interlude, a short acoustic part, and eventually louder guitars and vocal overdubs tumbling over each other into a jubilant finale. Definitely one of the highlights of the album, and well worth its release on a single-CD.

The band released an interesting acoustic version of this song as well.

Theft, And Wandering Around Lost

At the heart of Four-Calendar Café we find a series of quieter songs, starting off with this one. Liz' vocals take center stage in this gentle effort, but there's an unexpected twist in the lyrics.

Everything in this track superficially appears to be gentle and harmonious. Liz singing peacefully, the rest of the band following at leisure. No acrobatics, no overdubs, no powerful guitar riffs. Nothing too memorable almost, just a sweet and innocent song about happiness and comfort, surely?

Well, yes, until you listen really closely to the lyrics, that is. And hear some unexpectedly fierce statements by Liz. It's like activating the subtitles on a foreign movie and finding out the ugly truth behind the beautiful façade. After a few lines for instance we hear

And I take back my power
My body is my own
My body is mine alone
and a few moments later there is
Is this what my body said?
"Use me, drain me, fall around me"
Is this what my body said?
"Engulf me, I'm already dead"
Dramatic stuff indeed, that is about, well, exactly what is it about? A bad relation, childhood traumas? The words may be understandable, but Liz has wrapped them in enough mystery to keep us in the dark as to the exact meaning of her story.

The surprising thing is to find such intense lyrics in what appears to be such a nice and optimistic track. In earlier days such as on Garlands the band wrote tracks that were buried in gloom. Those would have been quite fitting for lyrics such as these. One wonders whether it was a conscious decision to combine these dark thoughts with such gentle rhythms, or whether we witness an early indication of artistic differences between the band members.

Oil Of Angels

With as few instruments as are generally being played on this album there's a limited number of different atmospheres one can create. The peaceful Oil Of Angels, with its quiet melodies, soothing rhythms and gentle vocals is indeed in some ways not very different from several other tracks.

Perhaps this is why Liz decided to introduce a new feature: on several occasions, she sings in a 'stuttering' way, repeating a syllable many times as if unable to continue. This makes the vocals sound even more uncertain than they so often already are, and with Liz singing way below her maximum power the end result is a song breathing doubt and lack of confidence.

While the vocal parts are well worth listening to the background is quite monotonous, and most of the time is merely there to help Liz out. A single brief interlude provides a nice bit of variation, but otherwise one can't help feeling there could have been quite a bit more creativity in the musical department. As it is Oil Of Angels is a nice and quiet song, which fits in perfectly with the rest of the album, but doesn't add all that much to it.


Squeeze-Wax is one of the most lighthearted tracks the Cocteau Twins ever recorded, and the reason is by no means hard to find. The name of Liz' then recently born daughter Lucy occurs frequently in the lyrics, so we are apparently treated to a gentle mother to daughter love song.

Motherly love is usually warm and soft, and indeed there is little to suggest anything else in this track. Although the lively introduction seems to suggest we are in for a dynamic treat the song never succeeds in fulfilling that promise. The rhythms are pleasing enough, and Liz' vocals are as subtly interwoven as they usually are, but the composition lacks a bit of bite, and especially the chorus is a bit too straightforward to be really interesting.

Squeeze-Wax is another track in which Liz testifies of her recently found peace of mind. Unfortunately her happiness yielded less captivating songs than her anguish, so in a way her gain is our loss.

My Truth

The entire Four-Calendar Café album is of a much lighter nature, but even within this album's context My Truth is a remarkably lighthearted tune.

The simple repetitive percussion, Liz' vocals sung at only a fraction of her maximal volume and a constant keyboard background buzz all make the song come dangerously close to plain background music. On closer listening there are some nice guitar wails, and some interesting keyboard effects, but the song is still struggling to keep everybody's constant attention.

As with most of the songs the lyrics can be made out with a bit of effort, and again they are high in psychological contemplations, though - in line with the musical landscape - not as dramatic as in some other songs.

My Truth is apparently typical for this period in the Cocteau's career, when they were not so much attempting to produce high profile music all the time but were content to create an album breathing an atmosphere of quiet happiness for most of the time. If that was indeed their aim then My Truth is surely one of their most succesful efforts.


Fragility, introspection, contemplation, one can only use so many multi-syllable words to describe what is going on in Essence. Liz is singing very melancholically here, and philosophical sentences like

Where do baby leaves go when they die
Oh, why I do not mourn
God is a feeling of loving yourself
You're precious to me you know that
tell us it has everything to do with her recent motherhood.

Apart from the chorus Liz' vocals are actually closer to talking then they are to singing. Her best contributions are really in the accompanying background chorus which sounds really beautiful. Instrumentally not a lot is happening: a remarkably spatial sounding guitar is most prominent, but as in most tracks from this album the vocals are what really matter.

Essence is not a track easy to come to terms with. Everything happens at a slow pace, there is no real rhythm and only a trace of melody in the chorus, so from a musical point of view there is little to get excited about. Many will appreciate the delicate atmosphere and relaxed mood, but others may well feel this is one of the band's more indifferent songs.


After a long series of gentle songs Four-Calendar Café seems certain to end in peace and quietness. And of course the Cocteau Twins promptly prove otherwise, as Summerhead brings the album alive with a burst of energy unlike any other track on the album.

The band certainly doesn't hang about either. The very first note is played by a pounding guitar, there are heavy drums, cymbals (rare on this album!) and everything happens at blistering pace. Liz starts out with a fairly regular verse but soon increases the volume during the chorus. And it doesn't get any calmer after that. A clever part of interlude is woven in, a tearing guitar is added towards the end. To put it simply, Summerhead rocks!

The remarkable thing about this song is that the band does not let off anywhere. There's a solid wall of sound built here, without any discernible holes. When Liz is singing she does so virtually continuously. The few times Liz stops singing a heavy guitar steps in. The drums keep on going, the guitars keep on flowing, the rhythm dances on. From start to finish there is simply not a single dull moment in this monumental song.

Doesn't all this make Summerhead appear a bit out of place on this album? Surprisingly it doesn't. Despite contrasting strongly with most other songs it somehow fits in rather well. And in fact it also prepares the listener for the concluding efforts of Pur.


The Cocteau Twins did it again. On an album like Four-Calendar Café, filled with subtle songs, it seems an almost impossible task to find a song that both fits in and still has that magic touch of conclusion that had become such a trademark over the years. Yet the band once more managed to compose a majestic song to close down the album perfectly. Apart from an excellent track Pur is therefore also a testimony to the band's craftsmanship.

The song starts out very quietly and gently. Liz first verse leaves us in no doubt as to the subject:

I'm glad you are a girl
I'm pleased to know you
I like you for you
I'm happy you're growing up
Things flow on peacefully from there, with little signs of the dramatic changes ahead. But after the final verse a steadily rising note rapidly changes the song from a brook into a swirling river. Suddenly the sound is much heavier, there is serious percussion and Liz gives us a lot more volume. After the next chorus there is even a really heavy instrumental part with Ivo-esque guitars.

The song just can't go wrong from there. Two more repeats of the lengthy chorus easily provide the perfect finale to this wonderful song and also to the album.