The Pink Opaque - 1985

The Pink Opaque The Spangle Maker
Wax And Wane
Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops
From The Flagstones
Musette And Drums

At this stage of their career the Cocteau Twins were very popular among a specific audience in the UK, but outside their home soil they were an unknown quantity to most people. To this end The Pink Opaque was released. The record can therefore be seen as a "best of" compilation. Millimillenary appeared for the first time, and some of the others were remixed, but the majority of the songs were left unchanged from their original release.

As an album the ten songs offer a rich and well selected overview of what the band was capable of in the first three years of their existence. To those yet unfamiliar with their magic a copy of this album will allow them to get acquainted with some of their best work.

The Spangle Maker

Taken from the EP The Spangle Maker.

Same sound, new directions. The Spangle Maker, is vintage Cocteau Twins, yet clearly indicates the beginning of a new era. No special effects, no overdubs, no unusual instruments or exotic styles. Just a straightforward song.

And so there are just four very distinct ingredients to this track: percussion, guitar, bass, vocals. Each of them is equally important. The rhythmic yet gentle beats of the percussion provide the backbone of the song. Liz' dreamy vocals and Simon's bass take care of the main melody. But it's Robin's guitar that is really having the creative role here. Gently wailing, with varied levels of distortion it wanders in and out of the song. It never really gets to the foreground but keeps on a par with the bass, challenging it, teasing it, playing around with it while the bass steadily keeps dictating the pace. It's a fantastic display of guitar wizardry.

The song features quite a few variations in sound level as well, starting off fairly quietly, and after a few louder episodes eventually finishing with a grand finale where everything comes together in a jubilant crescendo. It's a style the band would use more often to equally good effect, for instance in Donimo and Pur.

But we may think of The Spangle Maker as more than just a song: it is really the Cocteau Twins introducing their new line-up. It is as though the band is trying to prove a point, establishing that with three band members they can make their music work without any technical tricks. From that point of view they hardly could have pleaded their case any better.


Millimillenary is a track of considerable significance in the Cocteau's history, because it marks the entry of Simon Raymonde as a band member. Actually it was written by Simon and Robin shortly before Simon was officially asked to join the band late 1983. Millimillenary was never released on a studio album, but when The Pink Opaque was compiled it was decided to include the song after all. It is the single track on this album which is not available on any other release.

From a musical point of view Millimillenary sounds fresh and energetic, with a definite 'Spangle Maker era' flavor. Liz in particular sings in the same style - quite loud and with a slightly plaintive tone - as she would do on the famous Pearly Dewdrops's Drops. The quiet pace of the song is also very reminiscent of the works from the Spangle Maker EP. What makes the song stand out though is the unusually reverberating guitar that generates a rather spatial effect and sounds very much unlike any other track the band ever did.

All in all Millimillenary is quite a succesful effort, especially taking into account that it was only the first time Robin and Simon wrote a song together. If one would want to find a sign of inexperience there is just the final fade-out to consider. It's something they rarely used and would remedy quickly: already on The Spangle Maker all three songs are provided with a proper ending.

Wax And Wane

Taken from the album Garlands.

Remarkably upbeat Wax And Wane is easily the liveliest track in the otherwise mostly gloomy landscape of Garlands. Nowhere else on the album will you find such ultraquick rhythms as in this song.

Despite its merry character Wax And Wane is still very much a song from the Garlands era. The percussion, dynamic as it is, still sounds a bit mechanical (no cymbals for instance). Note also how the first minute is entirely without vocals - a feature they wouldn't repeat often later in their career. When Liz actually starts singing she does so with great enthusiasm, using tremolo's to add some extra emotion - but again note how there are no overdubs. Finally there is the extraordinary prominence of the bass, close to taking over the leading role from the guitar.

But the most enchanting feature of Wax And Wane is its remarkable freshness. This is a song that simply invites us to have fun, to enjoy. Liz sounds so young, so happy, so dedicated. The creative long drawn out guitar textures interact so marvellously with the bass rhythms, and at times you'd swear even the drum machine is having a party. The band would go on to create many more highly optimistic tracks, but on Garlands this song is like a brightly shining star in an otherwise fairly murky sky.

The band played a very similar version at their first BBC Session.

• On this album a clearly remixed version was included. The sound is less sharp and quite a bit more polished. But both bass and percussion have lost some of their originality, so many may well prefer the earlier version.


Taken from the EP Sunburst And Snowblind.

On Hitherto a steady rhythm and a consistent background guitar provide the setting for a lively, fairly loud song. Although the melody itself is interesting, it is the vocal department that makes this song worthwile, because on Hitherto we encounter one of the finest examples of Liz's singing capabilities.

As is so often the case with the Cocteaus the lyrics of the song do not seem to have real meaning. In fact the words Hitherto and Hitherside appear to represent almost half of the lyrics, and are repeated so often that it might easily have got boring. Liz manages to sing them in so many different ways though, that the listener is safely kept from experiencing repetition too clearly. The foreground and background vocals are constantly interchanging, and so are the pitch and volume of some particularly drawn out notes. Hitherto is a perfect example of how a good song can still offer ample opportunity to deliver vocal acrobatics.

With its expressive vocals and prominent guitar Hitherto is a song that lends itself well to live performances, and so it was played both at a BBC session and in a much rawer version during a Saturday night live performance.

Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops

Taken from the EP The Spangle Maker.

Easily the most famous track the Cocteau Twins ever recorded Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops sent the band onto an unexpected journey into the British singles charts in 1984 after a large amount of airplay on the BBC by John Peel.

An incomprehensible title, magnificent vocals and a catchy chorus, those must have been the key elements of this song's success. The enigmatic character of the band and the intangibility of the shimmering musical layers all contribute to a feeling of inexplicable magic. Liz' vocals, enriched with many creative overdubs, appear to display a whole range of emotions. She in turn sounds romantic or exuberant, defiant or plaintive, and one could probably describe her moods in a handful of other ways still.

As so often there's greatness in simplicity. Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops is not a very complicated track. A subtle and fragile episode introduces the song, after which firmer stuff arrives. There's a well defined verse and chorus, and in both of them the song title can easily be recognized - one of the last Cocteau songs with this property as Liz would soon abandon including the song title into the lyrics. After an interlude the latter parts clearly work towards a final conclusion, which eventually ends the song in beauty and harmony.

It's not all that clear why Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops entered the charts when so many other Cocteau songs never came close. Obviously it's a great song, but so are at least fifty other Cocteau tracks. One explanation is that this is one of their more accessible efforts. Or it may simply have been a matter of being at the right place at the right moment.

• Unfortunately the 7-inch version rather than the full length 12-inch version was included here, which means the original subtle introduction is missing, and the beautiful conclusion is replaced by a fade-out at an arbitrary point.

From The Flagstones

Taken from the EP Sunburst And Snowblind.

One of the more straightforward songs from the Head Over Heels era, From The Flagstones has a pleasant and easily remembered melody, gentle pace, and a few special effects to put the icing on the cake.

It's not too often one can sing along easily with a Cocteau track. But From The Flagstones is a notable exception since it's of their rare efforts where Liz' lyrics can be made out really easily, even if they don't appear to make a lot of sense. Combined with its fairly simple melody this makes the song quite accessible and not too hard to recollect.

The melody of the song may not be too complicated, a few special effects spice it all up very nicely. Notice the pretty 'tinkling' sounds right at the start of the song and again in the last few seconds. In the final phases Liz appears to be supported by a large background choir - obviously produced in some electronic way.

From The Flagstones is a nice song, not too excentric in any way, but in a paradoxical way this makes it special in itself : this is about as close as the Cocteau Twins would ever come to playing a regular pop/rocksong.

The band played the song live during a BBC session and then lifted it to new heights during their Saturday night live performance.


Taken from the EP Aikea-Guinea.

Aikea-Guinea is about as close as the Cocteau Twins ever got to creating mainstream rock music. Far from being an average hit song the track at least features easily appreciated melodies, and a nice and simple rhythm.

While there are lots of percussion it is remarkable how totally different they sound from the Treasure fireworks. Gone are the heavy, spatial drums and the majestic cymbals. Instead we hear a rather straightforward rhythm, with lots of emphasis on count three out of four, something they'd also experiment with in Quisquose.

The vocals are arranged beautifully, switching continuously between several melodies. There's no verse/chorus structure, but just three vocal episodes. Liz presents us with two melodies during the first episode, then makes it three different melodies in the two others. The first and most obvious melody starts out on high notes, but then comes down in a series of ever descending pitches, probably the song's most conspicuous feature. In contrast another melody contains a number of rising pitches, while the third one seems to have hardly more than just a single note. Together they give Liz ample opportunity to create a marvellously varied vocal landscape.

Being a Cocteau production the track has much more to offer of course. There are more rising/descending effects in the guitar parts and great stereo effects in the percussion. There's a tambourine and a background that provides a 'grand' atmosphere. But in general Aikea-Guinea is just a lovely song, and also yet another proof that the band could almost totally abandon the style from previous albums and still come up with a wonderful composition.

• The version included here was clearly remixed. There's a much heavier bass, a kind of ringing guitar, and some of the other guitar parts are louder and sharper as well. All these make the song a lot busier, to the point where it loses the appealing spontaneity of the original composition. Not really an improvement.


Taken from the album Treasure.

Lorelei - the famous rock in the Rhine. Legend has it a famous treasure is hidden nearby. One wonders whether this is where the inspiration for the album title came from. Lorelei, in any case, is a song as solid as a rock.

The introduction to this track hits the unsuspecting listener like a freight train. A loud, overwhelming electric guitar dominates the song. Relentlessly it delivers deafening chords, ably assisted by the kind of loud drums and cymbals so typical of Treasure. Together they form a wall of sound, a curtain of noise, setting the stage for Liz, challenging her to perform yet another magical vocal trick.

And she does, of course. Her style in this case is possibly best described by 'whispering at full volume'. It makes the vocal part sound rather innocent, and the rising pitch and the subdued way of singing contribute to this impression of youth and naivety.

Despite holding back though Liz somehow manages to stay on a par with the loudness of the guitar and percussion. In fact halfway through the song, when she finally allows herself to erupt into a fantastic interlude at full vocal strength, she easily comes out on top.

Lorelei is one of the songs by the Cocteau Twins that could really be categorized as 'hard rock'. It's a genre the band only rarely played (although on Treasure they had one more go with Persephone) but as one had come to expect by now the band showed once more they could make any style work for them.


Taken from the EP The Spangle Maker.

Pepper-Tree must surely be one of the most fantastic tracks the band has ever released - and yet it originally appeared as the B-side on the 7" release of Pearly Dewdrops' Drops! Rightfully it was included on the The Spangle Maker EP and on this compilation as well.

It is very hard to describe what makes the song so good. Perhaps the main feature is the atmosphere, so incredibly warm and intimate. Then again the rhythm, at exactly one beat per second, so soothing and relaxed, plays a major part. The drums, quietly in the background, and yet prominent at the same time, with the occasional outburst, contribute largely to the overall impression as well.

And then there are Liz' vocals. The main vocals are great, the background ones are simply brilliant. They are surely as close as one can get to resembling a choir of angels.

The end of the song is far from ordinary either. By combining the majestic sound of a large clock to a final chord the band managed to find a very ingenious way to close out such a soft and rhythmic song.

Words fall way short to describe the beauty of it all. But listening to Pepper-Tree is like taking a trip into musical paradise.

The band later endeavoured to play this song live on one of their BBC Sessions.

Musette And Drums

Taken from the album Head Over Heels.

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.