Head Over Heels - 1983

Head Over Heels When Mama Was Moth
Five Ten Fiftyfold
Sugar Hiccup
In Our Angelhood
Glass Candle Grenades
In The Gold Dust Rush
The Tinderbox (Of A Heart)
My Love Paramour
Musette And Drums

Sunburst And Snowblind
Sugar Hiccup
From The Flagstones
Because Of Whirl-Jack

Head Over Heels was the second full album the Cocteau Twins made, and what a treat it turned out to be. After the change of direction with Peppermint Pig the duo (Will Heggie had left by now) had obviously returned to their original style as indicated earlier by Lullabies. Not only that, but the multitude of ideas, styles and influences on both the album and the accompanying EP Sunburst and Snowblind is absolutely stunning.

On Head Over Heels we find indications of new wave (In Our Angelhood) and jazz (Multifoiled) for instance. To see how different any two songs on the album can be just compare When Mama Was Moth with Musette And Drums). If Garlands was in part impressive because of it's consistency in sound and style, Head Over Heels is even more so because of its diversity. And yet despite all this the album still succeeds in being a true album rather than a collection of songs.

From a technical point of view major steps forward had been made. Due to the fact there were only two of them the music necessarily makes heavy use of echo and overdub, yet it does so without being too apparent. Liz's vocals are even more convincing and she succeeds in covering much more of the emotional spectrum than on earlier releases. The specific guitar sounds from Garlands have been replaced by a multitude of arrangements, for every song a suitable one. The drums are less prominent, and due to the lack of a bass player few obvious bass lines can be heard. Effectively then a shift has taken place from the rhythm department to the melodic department, and the music flourishes by it.

The CD-version includes all four songs from the Sunburst and Snowblind EP as well. Since the track Sugar Hiccup features on both of them the CD oddly enough contains this track twice.

When Mama Was Moth

Of all the tracks the Cocteau Twins have ever recorded When Mama Was Moth can surely boast the most unusual introduction. On hearing the first explosion like percussion beats and very low guitar chords many a fan will have suspected for a moment their turntable was set at the wrong speed.

The track remains unusual right through. The booming percussion is complemented by subtle tambourine-like sounds. The guitar is Robin at his growling best - it's Garlands revisited in a way, but the variations are much more creative here. And then there are these very high notes (a keyboard?) taking over from where one would expect a lead guitar to step in. It's a fantastic example of the Twins' creativity when it comes to mixing very different things together.

Liz vocals are well up to their task of performing equally well. The difference between her expression on tracks such as these and those on Garlands is enormous. She appears to have covered a career's development in little over a year.

The lyrics of When Mama Was Moth are quite interesting as well. The sleeve of the album version revealed some of the lyrics of this song:

When mama was moth, I took bulb form.
But other fragments of the song's lyrics can be picked up as well, giving a first indication of what would prove to be a trademark of Liz: word play. The first words of the song are clearly Sunburst and Snowblind, also the name of the accompanying EP. Another line is Ribbed and Veined, later a title on Tiny Dynamine.

Never happy with the obvious Robin and Liz make the song end with yet a few more unusual twists. All of which bear witness to the incredible amount of creativity that was put into this track.

Five Ten Fiftyfold

On Head Over Heels we find loud tracks and softer ones, quick rhythms and slower ones, and nicely in the middle there is Five Ten Fiftyfold, a typical track from this period.

The song is characterized to some extent by the frequently repeated title line, which makes the song easily recognizable. Liz is not holding back in this case: the chorus is sung with total dedication and at full volume. It is amazing to hear how quickly Liz was able to change her vocal style from the controlled contributions on Garlands to much more extrovert efforts as in this case and even more so in songs like Musette And Drums.

By now it was not uncommon for the band to record more than one vocal track to make Liz sing duets with herself. In this song however the second "voice" is performed by a saxophone, a rare feature on a Cocteau Twins record. As it turns out the two fit perfectly together, complementing each other very naturally.

All through the first half of the song the saxophone and vocals combination is so effective they totally dominate the proceedings. Towards the end though a brilliant guitar intermezzo by Robin makes you fully aware how fine a duo the two of them were at the time.

Sugar Hiccup

The Cocteau Twins have never been afraid to experiment with musical styles, rhythms or patterns. Blind Dumb Deaf was an early attempt to obtain creativity from repetition, and they explored similar lines during their Head Over Heels period with Hitherto and, in particular, Sugar Hiccup.

The main musical line of the song is a fairly slow guitar rhythm, repeated throughout the entire song. The sound is pleasant, very smooth and sees the band now totally abandoning their rougher edges from the Garlands era. There are subtle variations on the main theme, which none the less totally dominates the composition from start to finish. And although the lyrics as usual are either unintelligible or appear to make little sense the phrase Sugar Hiccup can not be missed: it occurs no less than 26 times!

All this makes Sugar Hiccup easy to recognize or remember, but it also results in a track awkwardly close to monotony. The main theme is quite strong, but it can still bear only so much repetition. Oddly enough though the Twins still decided to include this very track on both the Head Over Heels album and their Sunburst And Snowblind EP.

Several months later the band delivered a livelier version during one of their BBC sessions.

In Our Angelhood

The Cocteau Twins may have sprung into existence in an era when new wave and quick guitars were all the craze, only rarely have they themselves produced a song in that style. On this occasion however the Twins manage to create a fine example of pleasantly lively rock music. Rapid guitar riffs tumble over each other to a steady beat as Liz demonstrates her ability to handle some rather quickfire vocals.

One is tempted to think of this song as a final reference to their previous release Peppermint Pig. Comparison however learns that the track at hand features a rather different atmosphere. The sound is much lighter and the guitar occasionally sounds almost acoustic. This is also one of those rather rare occasions where a Cocteau Twins' melody tends to remain inside the brain rather than trying to escape remembrance at all cost.

The song succeeds so well in delivering a simple yet appealing rhythm that one wonders why the band rarely again exploited their talents to create such great upbeat tracks. Then again their constant search for new ideas might just be the main reason why the Cocteau Twins are so unique.

Shortly afterwards, during a BBC session the band played a rather different version of this track.

Glass Candle Grenades

There are ten songs on Head Over Heels and virtually equally many styles. While some influences are fairly easy to classify, some tracks are just uniquely Cocteau Twins. With its remarkable guitar sound Glass Candle Grenades clearly falls into the latter category.

The song does not exactly hang around: from the first to the last second Robin uses a jangling yet pulsating kind of guitar sound. Severe drum beats give the song as solid a backbone as you could think of. A second guitar supplies extra variation during a short instrumental intermezzo, but in general the sound is very consistent. Robin would later use a similar technique - though at far lesser volume - to great effect in Crushed.

Firm songs need firm vocals, and that's exactly what Liz supplies here. Many singers would drown in the instrumental volume, but although Liz needs her full vocal strength, she manages very well to counterbalance the instrumental storm.

The song has another rare feature, in that is one of four songs on this album from which Liz disclosed a tiny bit of its lyrics: on the inside sleeve of the vinyl version we find written

Glass candle grenades are popping
Still we'll not keel over
fragments which can be clearly heard several times in the song.

Would you believe Glass Candle Grenades is a short song? It lasts less than three minutes. Well, make that less than three very fascinating minutes.

In The Gold Dust Rush

"So how many guitar players and vocalists would you say you are hearing?" A suitable question to ask on listening to In The Gold Dust Rush, a song built with such great craftsmanship that it's hard to believe only one guitar player and one vocalist were actually involved.

In The Gold Dust Rush is a song fizzing with rhythm and energy. The first few drum beats are already trembling with anticipation, and a wave of guitars promptly follows. Liz amazingly matches their volume without any apparent effort. In the relatively calmer episodes she provides a beautiful background vocal as well - yet another example of using overdubs to great effect.

But most admiration should undoubtedly go to the guitar parts. Robin managed to weave so many guitars together so well that it's easy to see how he earned the reputation of being some kind of production wizard. A firm guitar takes care of the main melody. Wailing electric guitars provide the song with a steady background, well supported by some pretty awesome drum machine programming. But it's the acoustic guitars that really make the difference. Their short but ultraquick contributions popping up every few seconds make the song pure magic.

In The Gold Dust Rush is not very loud, and not very quick either, but it does display incredible enthusiasm. Robin and Liz at this point were only just beginning to discover how their cooperation was producing one musical gem after the other. Tracks like these bear witness to the joy and consequent maximal dedication this realization must have brought them.

The Tinderbox (Of A Heart)

Listen to this track a few times and you're probably hooked for the rest of your life. Its tantalizing rhythm is one never to be forgotten, to be sung at any time, at any place. To this the band added a gorgeous background melody and then came up with yet another beautiful melody for the main vocals.

Anyone trying to describe The Tinderbox (Of A Heart) is likely to run into trouble straight away. How does one define its style? What's the structure of the song? Does it have verses and choruses? Is it loud or soft? Quick or slow? Lively or calm? And it's very hard to come up with any answers. It's generally soft, but it has some louder fragments. The background rhythm is very quick, but the main rhythm is slow. You can accept it as a lively song, but the main melody is soothing. There are no choruses or verses really, but one could argue the song consists of chorus only. As for its style, we may as well say the song is in a class of its own.

To find out what's going on take a careful look what's happening here. The ingenious thing about this track is that it was built in three layers. First of all there's the percussion - quick and very repetitive - every three and a bit seconds it starts over again. It's the most consistent part, although even here there are subtle variations and sudden drum rolls inbetween. But then there's a second rhythmic layer, mostly defined by the background vocals. The lyrics are hard to follow, but Liz appears to sing something like

Through the edge
Are beaten
You feel
Danger there
Now this is the main rhythm really. It's much slower - it repeats once in every four percussion parts, roughly once every 13 seconds. This secondary rhythm determines the pace of the song, dividing it into 'episodes' of 13 seconds each.

And then there's a third layer, where the main melody and lots of other variations are to be found. And those variations coincide exactly with the episodes of the main rhythm. A number of episodes feature the vocals of the main melody - and again we are provided with a few tantalizing lyrics on the inner sleeve of the LP version:

Tinderbox of a heart
Left a shell is all
Oh, and by the way: the phrase bloody and blunt can also be heard - it was later to become a song title on The Moon and the Melodies.

So the variety of the song is generated by all the different ways to fill the episodes. There are a few without any additions, one has whispered vocals, one has faint vocals, several have 'normal' vocals. Then at times there's a xylophone joining the rhythm section, in some places a guitar plays along as well. In the later parts some string instrument, probably generated by a keyboard, provides an additional majestic background.

The way Robin created a song out of such an unusual concept is truly exceptional. Tinderbox isn't just a fantastic song, it's pure magic.

The band played a similar but not quite identical version during one of their BBC sessions


It is well known that The Cocteau Twins were occasionally inspired by jazz. Several tracks on Tiny Dynamine for instance show clear signs of such influences. But the band never came closer to this style than when they recorded Multifoiled.

The staccato arrangement of guitars and piano in particular is what gives this song its special atmosphere. Both remain silent for significant parts of the track. Liz once more proves her versatility by providing exactly the right kind of vocals. Percussion is sparse, but on two occasions that's all what's left. Both times though Liz rejoins for a wonderful vocal/percussion duet before everything starts going again.

In view of all the above it is rather surprising to note Multifoiled only lasts for just over two and a half minutes. Despite that the track succeeds quite well in sounding complete. And of course it adds one more very distinct flavour to the wonderful diversity of Head Over Heels.

My Love Paramour

The strength of Head Over Heels is its variety. Almost every song features a different musical style. On My Love Paramour we encounter a song in which the bass guitar is taking on the leading role for a change.

One is very much tempted to forget the band had actually lost their bass player just before recording this album. All through this track the sound is dominated by the rich dark bass beautifully interwoven with the gentle wailing of Robin's guitar. The overall effect is a fairly relaxed atmosphere in which one can dream momentarily away.

But the Cocteau Twins would never be content to write a song just like that without supplying the listener with quite a bit more. To counterbalance the rather calm melody there is another guitar effect, a very rapid little chord recurring often throughout the song. Note towards the end there are quite a few interesting stereo effects in the percussion as well.

The vocals are sparse in this track, which is almost Garlands revisited. For good measure though Liz shows us several times how well she can deliver long drawn out notes. In whatever lyrics there are the line Ooze Out And Away, Onehow can plainly be heard. It was later to become a song title on The Moon And The Melodies.

The song eventually ends in quiet harmony, leaving the first time listener quite unprepared for the raw force erupting out of the album's concluding track Musette And Drums.

Musette And Drums

Having treated the listener to a wonderful collection of songs and styles Head Over Heels exceeds every possible expectation with a stunning finale, an inspired track that is bound to feature in every fan's list of favourite Cocteau tracks.

It's very hard to describe exactly what makes Musette And Drums such a special song. The crashing guitar is probably the key, played to the limit of its possibilities and with total conviction. It's the sheer emotion of the guitar that stands out. It cries out, howls, bellows, begs, shows a whole range of feelings and moods all through the track. Then there's this amazing part halfway through, where the main guitar is silent for 24 beats, increasing the tension to unbearable heights before it comes alive again. The final parts are loaded with agony, as the guitar seems to scream like a wounded animal, fruitlessly trying to escape from undescribable dangers.

Let's not forget the band were a twosome at the time. Did Liz ever sing with more empathy than she does here? Totally different from most other songs, she sounds desolate, desperate, and even her lyrics are unusually eloquent. Though most of the words appear to make little sense, among those that can be made out are tragedy and Juliet's, which capture the mood perfectly.

And what about the drums, probably not coincidentally mentioned in the title? Without knowing would you ever guess these were actually produced by a drum machine? It must have taken extraordinary skills to produce such fantastic rhythms that way, and the song is a tribute to Robin's talents in both writing the percussion parts and his ability to program the machine.

Musette And Drums is the ultimate track of the first part of the Cocteau Twins' career, a worthy conclusion of their first years. After this album Simon Raymonde was to join the band, and together they would reach new heights of creativity. But even at their peak they might have found only a few tracks could match the magic of Musette And Drums.

The band simply had to perform this song live, both during their BBC Sessions, and at their Saturday night live performance.