Lullabies - 1982

Lullabies Feathers-Oar-Blades
Alas Dies Laughing
It's All But An Ark Lark

Rather then waiting until enough material was available to fill an entire album the Cocteau Twins elected to follow up their spectacular debut album Garlands with an EP release called Lullabies.

Just three songs then, but the B-side was filled with the 8-minute It's All But An Ark Lark, a rare occasion of a Cocteau song lasting seriously over five minutes. The instantly recognizable styles of guitar and drums have remained, but the arrangements make the songs sound more lighthearted then most of their Garlands material. Liz's vocal style is getting more diverse, and mixing of foreground/background vocals is used more often, something which would become another trademark of their music.

Lullabies therefore, is an obvious step forwards in the direction which would ultimately lead to their highly successful Head Over Heels album.

The Lullabies EP was later included in both The Box Set and the Lullabies To Violaine compilation.


Everybody familiar with Garlands will easily tell Feathers-Oar-Blades is a track by the same artists. At the same time though nobody would fail to recognize the enormous progress the band had made.

The first and most noteworthy change is the lightheartedness of the tune. Where most tracks on Garlands could be characterized as "sobre" this song revels in enthusiasm and vitality. The pace set by the drum machine is extremely fast and Robin's guitar, sounding much less distorted then it used to do on Garlands, performs all sorts of magic in a dazzling display of craftsmanship, especially during the fantastic instrumental part in the middle. The bass is not getting much respite either, playing quite distinctly all through the song and perfectly complementing Robin's lively guitar chords.

There's more. Liz sings during a substantial part of the song - another novelty. There is also some use of vocal overdub, a technique the Twins were apparently just starting out to use. Note in particular the la-la-la bit just before the instumental part where a really beautiful vocal mix is obtained.

Interestingly the band also played this song during a BBC Session in a much less exciting and possibly not quite yet fully developed version. This much more innovative version though makes it quite clear that the band were certainly not content to keep their career going by trying to repeat the Garlands success formula. As it turned out the Cocteau Twins were always ready to take a new turn no matter how well their previous release had been received. From here on noone was ever going to be sure how their next release was going to sound.

Alas Dies Laughing

Alas Dies Laughing is what biologists would call 'a missing link'. With all kinds of guitar sounds, a lengthy intro and sparse vocals the track is firmly rooted in Garlands traditions. On the other hand the introduction does feature some creative subtleties, there is quite a bit of vocal overdub and the guitar is nowhere near as distorted.

The first part of the song is superficially quite reminiscent of such tracks as Garlands. There are faint guitar chords, there is the odd drumbeat and it is not until a full 45 seconds have elapsed that Liz starts her contribution. Only on listening closely will you find the introduction itself is already filled with subtle effects and provides a rather clever fade-in to the song.

When the track really goes into full gear marvellous guitar chords provide the backbone to a song which was obviously not meant to feature elaborate vocals. Liz is supplied only with a fairly monotonous line and with the assistance of a bit of overdub she succeeds in making it all sound quite good. But all the time the ever changing guitar is really what the song is all about. It is no more than fitting that Robin fills the last part of the song with his guitar only.

Being a quiet track, with no spectacular features Alas Dies Laughing is easily overlooked. But apart from enjoying its guitar effects one may also appreciate the song for showing us how the band took their first steps forward after Garlands.

The band played a rather similar version of this song during a BBC session as well.

It's All But An Ark Lark

While there are bands that feel ten minutes is a standard length for a composition the average Cocteau effort takes only approximately three and a half minutes. So it is a bit of a surprise that It's All But An Ark Lark at 8:05 easily takes more than twice as long as that.

With all the time in the world the song takes its time to get started: nearly all of the first minute is filled with an introduction consisting of faint sound effects. After that the typical distorted guitars jump to life, the drum machine begins to pound away its hypnotizing rhythm, and only after that are we introduced to the star of the show - the vocals. In a dramatic change from most songs on Garlands Liz sounds self-assured, jubilant at times, and generally appears to be taking center stage with joy and total confidence.

With eight minutes at her disposal Liz has plenty of room for vocal excursions. She introduces one vocal theme, then another, and then yet another. From there on we are treated to the extensive use of vocal overdubs, and at some points there are two clearly distinct background vocals in support of the foreground - which is lyrically incomprehensible as usual. Although at one point we hear the line

He's mocking both my lullabies

which must have been the inspiration to the EP's title (or maybe the other way around).

The song continues to combine vocals, drums and guitars into a wonderfully varied landscape, Liz mixing her themes all through the remainder of the song. Eventually there is still time left for a kind of brief reprise before a guitar fades away - signifying not just the end of the song but also of an era - the era of the extensive use of distorted guitars.

Although It's All But An Ark Lark provides a wonderful example of how beautifully the band could weave many different themes into a single track they never made another attempt to create such a lengthy song. Their only other compositions to reach beyond six minutes would be the significantly shorter Donimo and Lazy Calm.