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Banishing The Memories Of 4AD - Almost
on 28 September 2012
Throughout the 80's The Cocteau Twins were, to some, a kind of antidote to The Smiths. Much loved by John Peel fans, it seemed at times like the two were pitted against each other. The music of the Cocteaus seemed almost implied and it drifted off in the mid 80's and then the band seemed to rediscover their melodic muse. By the 90's it seemed the band wanted change and severed ties with 4AD and headed for a major label.
Listening to the fruits of that labour it seems like the commercial considerations (and fears of fans who thought the band was selling out) were justified. The world was given new artwork (which still seems uncomfortable even now) and a cleaner sound which seemed sharper, more defined. Opening single "Evangeline" being a wonderfully realised culprit. For fans of the old sound this isn't a good omen.
"Four Calendar Cafe" follows this formula pretty rigidly through the opening five tracks. Clean sounding, almost antiseptic, yet pleasant at the same time. It is a great way to discover the band, but perhaps a little to clean for those who longed for more distortion on Robin Guthrie's guitar, and a little less clarity on Liz Fraser's voice. Second single "Bluebeard", and the other three songs are pretty but don't linger in the mind too well.
Relief is found on the final tracks (what would have been side two), where the band find both melody and some semblance of the old sound. It's as if they can't quite escape what they were before. Here the band sound comfortable and the mood is beautiful. "Squeeze Wax" has a lovely melodic feel which hints that it could have made a fine third single, whilst "Essence" sounds like the logical next step from "Heaven Or Las Vegas" and closer "Pur" sounds like vintage Cocteaus shimmering and beautifully sung by Frazer. It's one of the few times on the record when Guthrie's guitars seem to carry her up, which may just be what the record misses.
Sleeve notes attest to the change but Guthrie contends this album is a logical next step from "Heaven Or Las Vegas". Perhaps it was a step too far for diehard fans. It did succeed in bringing new ones and makes a good introduction. Its second side is pretty good but the opening tracks still sound lifeless and rather sterile when placed in the full Cocteaus canon. As a whole there are much more satisfying Cocteau Twins albums.