Generation Z, we're worried about you. You were born in the early 1990s and as a result, you're coming of age with no memory of what it was like to not have the Internet, TMZ, or a smartphone. This concerns us. You seem distant. Engaged yet disengaged. Your eyes glow like two different colored apps on an iPhone. You seem compelled to communicate to an unfathomable number of strangers the most minute and personal of activities you engage in during your waking hours. When we ask you about your day, you respond saying you'll "text" us.
You have no memory of beautifully packaged, imported 12" vinyl singles hidden behind copies of the Eagles Greatest Hits in a record bin at the mall. Yes, that's what concerns us the most, the music you as a child of the '90s are stuck listening to. A Katy Perry song (not gonna link to her) will only resonate with you for one or two minutes of your young life and then...pfft. And when listening to a band like Vampire Weekend (again, nope) if you find yourself thinking "Boy, this sucks," well, you're right! The music you're being pushed to listen to does suck!
Music is the food of life, and we all crave nourishment. So what do you type into Google or the iTunes search engine to find music that can do more than satiate a temporary craving for sugar? Is there music you can download to feed your soul when you find yourself alone in a darkened room? Can such music be created by a band of mere humans?
Gen Z, meet The Cocteau Twins, a trio who first reached the U.S. shores from England around 1982 under the mysterious and Svengali-like patronage of a man called Ivo and his label 4AD. Guitarist Robin Guthrie, bassist Simon Raymonde, and vocalist Elizabeth Fraser quickly rose above their initial incarnation as a Siouxsie and the Banshees knock off to become a staggeringly beautiful and occasionally terrifying hybrid of Guthrie's punk-meets-psychedelic guitar layering and Fraser's scat, belt, and bell canto vocals. Their fan base sang along with every word, even though Fraser's lyrics were completely unintelligible. But it was the sound of, and the feeling behind, each syllabic slice, each primal yelp, each sustained phrase that spoke to those who're willing to listen. Perhaps this music will speak to you?
The Cocteau Twins, Crushed
Mystery Is a Virtue
"Why do people have to hear everything?" - Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins
The Cocteau Twins rarely let themselves be interviewed or photographed. They didn't blog, "like," or tweet. The Cocteau Twins valued mystery for the power it lends to the creative act and possibly because Robin Guthrie during their salad years gobbled so much LSD it was probably a good idea to keep him away from reporters. The sleeve art for their vinyl releases back in the early 80's were designed as works of art with little in the way of helpful copy to let you know who played what instrument, where the music was recorded, or even what speed to play the damn record. Every pre-CD Cocteau Twins fan has spun a Twins 12 inch meant to be played at 45 rpm at 33 1/3 discovering the error only when Liz Fraser's vocals came in about two octaves too low, making her sound like Bing Crosby after eating too much Ambien.
Listen up Gen Z: You don't have to share every single thing that happens to you in a public forum. As an alternative to that activity, go find a vinyl copy of Head Over Heels, open up the gatefold sleeve to view gorgeous artwork by 4AD's designer-in-residence Vaughn Oliver , and try to figure out which side of the record is "side one" and "side two." Enjoy the mystery. No Googling allowed.
They Are The Ultimate Mood Music
Travel back as far as 1982 (!) and, in certain circles where young women and men wear lots of black eyeliner, have their hair spiked up, and smoke loads of clove cigarettes, you will hear the mantra: "Last night we (insert NSFW activity here) while listening to The Cocteau Twins!" Mood music--that is, music created to function as a sort of "soundtrack" to an activity other than listening--and rock-and-roll merged in the early 70's to become a genre author Joseph Lanza calls in his book Elevator Music: "Sex-behind-the-gauze music." From Serge Gainsbourg's creepy Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus to Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby, it's clear that so-called "lifestyle" or "mood music" can be more than an aural backdrop for drinking overpriced cocktails or snorting coke; it can be an experience of all that is sensual, including the physical. Less corny than a squealing Bridgitte Bardot is every fans' favorite Cocteau Twins album Treasure - the one where every song title is (sigh) a woman's name! Beatrix, Cicely, Pandora, etc. Well, except for the first track title Ivo who we already introduced to you as the head of the Twins' label 4AD.
So the first time you meet someone who makes your pupils dilate, if after some preliminary back and forth they ask you: "Have you heard Treasure?" and invite you to their place to listen to a copy, rest assured you're going to have an interesting evening.
But then again, being alone with that particular record might be an even better proposition. Safer too.
The Cocteau Twins, Ivo
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
They Speak The Language Of The Heart
There are websites where Cocteau Twins fans offer their own translations and interpretations of Fraser's lyrics which, on first, second, and several hundred listens, often sound like poetically phrased gibberish. Fraser has volunteered that occasionally she made up words, but more often creatively articulated the syllabic make up of the Queen's English to transform individual words into sounds. She also included words from languages other than English in her lyrics. In this time of OMG, ROTFL, and #Spanglemaker, you may find, Gen Z, that what speaks to your heart isn't yet another acronym, abbreviation, or hashtag, but instead the so-called "gibberish" sung with great feeling by the lovely Ms. Fraser.
The Cocteau Twins, The Spangle Maker
Perhaps you'll be inspired to write your own translation of what Fraser is singing? And maybe "sharing" your poetic interpretations on the Internet isn't such a bad thing, but you do have the option to keep some things to yourself and let the mystery be.