The Cocteau Twins were the original dream pop masters; the shoegazers that emerged from a punk-dominated era that was none too subtle and certainly not boring. But the Cocteau’s straddled a fine line between bliss and boredom. I attended a Cocteau Twins show in 1994 (their last tour I believe) and remember very little detail from the peformance. I cannot, however, forget the relaxing, almost comatose state they put me in for nearly two hours that night. It was wonderful at the time, the perfect antidote for a stressful day at high school. The details, as I see now, were not important. There isn’t much that distinguishes one Cocteau’s song from another, and that’s okay, because they are more about a mood anyway. It wasn’t until their eighth or ninth album that their lyrics even became decipherable (not that the Scottish Elizabeth Fraser’s voice was easy to understand even in conversation).
The two-disc, 30-song BBC Sessions is a collection of the Twins’ best material, recorded live at the BBC. Most of the first disc was pulled from their Peel sessions, and highlights their earliest works. But there are a couple of things that keep it from being a stellar comp. First, most of the tracks were recorded between 1982 and 1984, and serve as a sampling of only their earlier works. The last seven tracks on disc 2 were recorded in 1996. Unfortunately, the gap in time leaves out much of the group’s finest material. The more well-known and commercially successful albums like Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas are virtually ignored. Second, the release just isn’t very timely.
The Cocteau Twins were forebearers for great acts like My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Curve, the Sundays, Sinead O’Connor, and the Cranberries, all of whom were vital in the music world around, say, 1992. Sure, the Cocteau’s were still making original music themselves back then, but a compilation such as this could have brought in legions of new fans who never knew the earliest roots of the dream-pop movement. Now, most who were directly inspired by the Twins have passed their prime as well. Released as it is today, this collection will only appeal to the serious Twins’ fan, and perhaps the Garbage fan who appreciates that group for more than Shirley Manson’s unmentionables and Butch Vig’s celebrity.
If there is one thing that stands out above all else on any Cocteau’s release, it is the voice of Elizabeth Fraser. It’s a soft siren, bold and tender. Dolores O’Riordan is perhaps the most successful copycat, but her wail is wildly erratic. The aforementioned O’Connor and Curve’s Toni Halliday come closest to matching Fraser’s restrained intensity.
There are two previously unreleased tracks on the compilation: an instrumental called “My Hue and Cry” and a cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Collectors will be drawn in by these rare nuggets, but those who own most of the band’s work won’t find anything new here. But those curious would-be fans who still have My Bloody Valentine and early-Lily’s CDs in the changer won’t be disappointed with this album as a nice introduction to the Twins’ world.