Milk & Kisses - 1996

Milk & Kisses Violaine
Calfskin Smack
Rilkean Heart
Treasure Hiding
Seekers Who Are Lovers

Almost all Cocteau Twins' albums show a distinct unity in style and character. On Milk & Kisses however we do not quite find such cohesion. Most songs do sound similar in a way but in general their styles vary widely. Violaine or Serpentskirt sound as if they could have been written near the era of Treasure. Rilkean Heart on the other hand is very reminiscent of Four-Calendar Café.

Although the band's previous albums were never predictable they always came up with something brand new in their career. In this case however it is hard to point out truly new elements. There are some masterful songs here, some brilliant efforts in the band's best tradition. Still there is no obvious step forward from their previous album, no clear progress in one direction or the other. One gets the impression the band were not quite sure where to go from here and for the first time in their career were truly searching for a clear musical direction.

If so they never found it. Milk & Kisses was to be their last album. In retrospect the absence of a single musical direction may well have been foreboding the end of their cooperation.


At the time of release the band was probably unaware of the fact that Milk & Kisses was to be their last studio album. But even if they had known they couldn't possibly have written a better farewell track than the shattering Violaine, a pulsating rock effort of stunning class.

It's all too easy to run out of superlatives for this fabulous track. How can you possibly describe such a magnificent effort? Even the first second with its two powerful bass notes vibrates with massive anticipation. Next a majestic guitar is played in the best tradition of such classics as Musette And Drums or Persephone. Then there are obvious stereo effects, with chords tumbling from left to right and back again. And that's just the intro. Things have hardly started and you're out of breath already.

Enter Liz. Relatively gentle at first, ever more jubilant as the song progresses. Guitars march on relentlessly, cymbals are crashing, but nothing can stop her. Multiple overdubs mean you can hear her in several different styles, using quickfire vocals and long wails all at the same time. Things just can't possibly get better from here on, now can they?

Oh yes they can. Liz suddenly takes a step back and we hear a majestic instrumental break. Resounding guitars rule at the peak of their powers, drums and cymbals join in as the track briefly turns into a hard rock party. But soon the sound dies down. Finished? Far from it. Liz takes over once more. Now she sounds sweet and innocent, tender and fragile. But she gains momentum as the guitars return, and the volume is turned up again until a final burst really concludes this song.

It's also interesting to note how different Violaine sounds from their previous album Four-Calendar Café. And how the lyrics are totally inexplicable again - just as they used to be on any early Cocteau track. On the insert of the CD we find the odd text fragment, suggesting they occur in the lyrics somewhere, although it nowhere says so. Some of those fragments appear to be English words written backwards. It probably wouldn't be beyond Liz to sing phrases backwards, (which would definitely explain why no one understands a syllable of them) but only one person knows for sure...

The band members themselves apparently loved this track as well. Violaine was released on an album and on CD-single in two different versions. The band also played an excellent rendition during their final BBC Session. And even before Milk & Kisses was released they recorded a very different version for their Otherness project. Finally both that version and the normal one feature on their Lullabies To Violaine compilation.

Which means that Violaine appears on no less than six offical Cocteau Twins releases, more than any other track they ever created. Which is a fitting tribute to this truly epic track.


The majestic guitar that opens up Serpentskirt provides it with one of the most remarkable intros the Cocteau Twins have ever written. The instantly recognizable five note sequence is being repeated throughout and simply dominates the entire song.

There's more to a song than just a few notes, of course, and Serpentskirt has much to offer. The chorus in particular is very attractive, with lively guitars and nice vocal mixes. During the quieter parts the bass can be heard to supply its support as well. A creative interlude towards the end adds to the song's diversity, and with a final burst the Twins show us once more they know how to conclude a song.

Still, no matter how hard the rest of the song is trying, it can not possibly emulate the quality of the main theme. It's the kind of riff that keeps fascinating no matter how many variations and key changes of it are being played. Once you have played it a few times it is likely to reverberate in your mind for the rest of your life.

Serpentskirt was also performed during one of the BBC Sessions.


Quiet rhythms and a fairly straightforward melody. Not too many fireworks and just about comprehensible lyrics. Tishbite is a more or less typical track for Milk & Kisses.

Whereas the first two songs on the album feature dazzling instrumental parts the emphasis in most of the other ones is firmly on the vocals. In Tishbite indeed there is never any doubt that Liz is completely in charge. The song starts out a bit hesitant and takes a while to get going, but the chorus is truly inspirational. Liz is shining with some great vocal overdubs and the guitar puts in lots of extra effort as well.

There's an unexpected twist in the final parts where Liz makes the additional background vocal completely take over in some beautiful free verse that lasts deep into the fade-out. Most of this is really soft, so turning up the volume during the final thirty seconds is the only way to hear it all.

Tishbite was also released on CD-single.


Earlier in their career the Cocteau Twins often made music dominated by guitars with additional vocal parts. Yet judging from Half-Gifts alone one could be forgiven for thinking there was little more to the band then just a singer.

Liz' vocals totally dominate this song, which both lyrically and musically is quite close in character to most tracks on Four-Calendar Café. The instrumental parts contain very little variation, so it seems Robin and Simon were happy to accompany Liz in a steady 3-3-2 rhythm, without even requesting so much as a brief instrumental interlude.

The lyrics though are well worth paying attention to. They are fairly easy to understand, and clearly deal with a broken relationship. Liz for once does not hide her meaning in vagueness and obscure fragments (although there is no way of telling whether the lyrics are really about herself of course). In the chorus for instance she makes quite a few statements:

Intimacy is when we're in the same place at the same time
Dealing honestly with how we feel, and who we really are

That's what grown-ups do
That is mature thinking
You can hardly put much clearer what apparently went wrong. And Liz shows us a new strength in her life as well. Although she presents her vocals in a sweet and charming voice, she ends the song with as clearcut a way of saying "I don't need you" as you're ever likely to encounter:
I have my friends, my family
I have myself
I still have me
In Half-Gifts Liz came up with an amazing number of strong and creative lines, something she didn't usually manage. In view of that it's not that surprising that unlike most of the band's work this song virtually contains vocal parts only.

The band recorded an acoustic version of this song as well an excellent though quite different BBC version.

Calfskin Smack

With its variety of vocal contributions balanced against a mostly compact wall of instrumental parts Calfskin Smack is another composition typical for the latter stages of the Cocteau Twins. It's not a total success though, and one can't help feeling that the band was perhaps no longer able to summon moments of genius whenever they were needed.

After the subtlest of intros (is that actually a triangle we are hearing?) a solid guitar takes over to give the track a steady backbone. Liz gives us a main melody, some background la-la-la's, and later on even more background vocals are mixed in.

There's not really anything wrong so far, but with everything sounding pretty regular and straightforward, and the main melody not being particularly strong, the song threatens to become somewhat flat. An energetic instrumental part provides a welcome addition, and the second half of the song is indeed a bit more dynamic, but the song is still not a really convincing effort.

Calfskin Smack is a good song, but it appears to lack that flash of inspiration which turns good songs into great songs.

The band played a more or less unchanged version during one of their BBC Sessions.

Rilkean Heart

Rilkean heart is a quiet, fairly soft song. It features lyrics that can be deciphered fairly easily, subdued vocals and no real instrumental part. Those are exactly the characteristics of most of the songs on Four-Calendar Café, so it's reasonable to assume this track was written near the end of that period.

The lyrics are all Liz: very philosophically and psychologically oriented. Midway through the song for instance we are treated to

Cleaning up my emotional life and I'm
Getting in touch with myself I'm beginning
To ground myself in my own sense of being as
An entity, one entity on the planet
Few bands would be able to put such delicate words onto music at all, and even the Cocteau Twins only managed to do so by making the instruments simply play the same melody as the vocals. This doesn't matter too much though, because the melody is a beautiful one, and Liz manages to deliver it flawlessly.

Compared to some of the other tracks on Milk & Kisses, Rilkean Heart is a very gentle, subtle song. One can hardly believe an even more subtle version was recorded for the Twinlights EP.


Ups combines gentle guitars with happy vocals and general feelings of optimism and joy. It's a bit short on any outstanding features though.

Ups is quite a busy song. Its rhythm is quick and there's a lot of percussion. Robin's guitar is happily weaving complex patterns all over from the first to the very last second. Liz' efforts are even more diverse. An overdubbed main melody, pretty background vocals and some unusual purring sounds are all poured into the mix. Her delivery of some of the higher notes is flawless. Technically then everything in this track is of the very highest standard.

And despite all that the song doesn't quite succeed in making a lasting impression. There's no chorus or other melody that's easily recognized. There are no stunning guitar riffs. There aren't any sudden accelerations or unexpected interludes, no rough edges anywhere. In a way it's mostly cruise control here. This makes it hard to really love this track.

Ups is nice - just nice. It sounds sweet and it's very well produced. But it somehow lacks that touch of brilliancy so abundantly present on so many other Cocteau tracks.


This track starts out with sounds of the sea, ends with them, and they in fact occur many more times all through the song. Sounds of waves have a soothing effect on most people, so one would therefore expect Eperdu to be a quiet song. It doesn't quite work out this way however.

Although the song delivers a relaxed rhythm the song itself is much more lively. Most of the quitars are pretty sharp, and Liz isn't quite able to hold back her vocal enthusiasm. We thus experience a bit of a confusing contrast between the quieting waves and the louder parts of the song.

To make it more difficult to the listener Eperdu has no obvious melody, and contains no comprehensible lyrics either. This makes the track hard to appreciate. It has its moments, but the band in this case may have buried their treasures just a bit too deeply.

Treasure Hiding

On some tracks on Milk & Kisses the band may not sound completely focused, but although the title may suggest otherwise Treasure Hiding is a song that is right up there with their best work.

It's a story in two parts really - a lengthy intro, immediately followed by an equally lengthy conclusion. The first half of this fairly long song is really soft and quiet, yet it already suggests something dramatic is about to happen. Liz gives us a few words and phrases, softly and hesitantly, to an almost non-existent background of just equally fragmentary guitar chords. No percussion, no obvious melody. The band had used such lengthy intros before, for instance on Donimo, but never quite as long as this time. After a minute or so you feel the acceleration must be coming soon, but no, the intro still goes on. A minute and a half, two minutes, two and a half minutes, and just when you feel it was all fake, and there simply won't be a change of pace after all - there it is: powerful rhythms at high volume suddenly wash over you like an unclogged waterfall.

And you find you haven't waited in vain. It's all there: dynamic guitars, exuberant vocals, drums, cymbals. Liz dispatches her lyrics in double quick time. She can even clearly be heard singing the song title (a not too common feature). The last minute is almost completely instrumental, with magnificent guitars taking center stage before the song ends in an unexpectedly gentle way.

The most remarkable feature is that the song, despite its two completely different halves, still feels like a unit. It's not as though we've got two incomplete songs, welded into an artificial combination. It really all hangs together, and that is why Treasure Hiding is such an excellent song.

Seekers Who Are Lovers

The last song of their last album. And although the band was probably unaware of this at the time Seekers Who Are Lovers sounds as if they wanted to prove a point. Dynamic guitars, energetic foreground vocals cleverly mixed with dramatic background ones, a strong melody and some sound effects thrown in for good measure. No shortage of effort and a great result.

The first few seconds are already very telling. After two quick drum riffs and a wonderful guitar loop the air is heavy with expectation. Liz holds back just a bit at first, but as she gets into the chorus she sings with ever more conviction, supported by her own emphatic background contributions. The lyrics are apparently about love and all the emotions that go with it. When listening to the song it is hard not to experience the dramatic feelings as they are expressed by Liz.

The melody is strong enough to need no further additions, although the gusting wind at the end is an interesting way to close off the song, the album and effectively (they would release a few more tracks on CD-singles after this album) their career as the Cocteau Twins.

The band performed the song in a few other ways as well. A slightly different version during one of the BBC Sessions, and a totally different if not downright unrecognizable version on their Otherness project.