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Its members were:
- Elizabeth Fraser - vocals
- Robin Guthrie - guitar, keyboards, drum machine programming
- Simon Raymonde - bass
The band was formed in 1979 by Guthrie, bassist Will Heggie and Fraser, who took their name from the song "The Cocteau Twins" by Johnny and the Self-Abusers (who you might know under their new name, Simple Minds) and quickly obtained a record deal with 4AD Records. Their first album, Garlands, was a largely Post Punk album heavily indebted to their acknowledged influences, Joy Division, The Birthday Party and Kate Bush. It was an instant success.
Heggie left the band in 1983 after a tour supporting their second EP, Peppermint Pig. Undaunted, Guthrie and Fraser recorded a new album, Head over Heels, entirely on their own with producer John Fryer. It was with this album that the band arrived at its Signature Style: Guthrie's heavily echoed and processed guitars combined with Fraser's powerful singing and Indecipherable Lyrics, creating an overall atmospheric sound.
Guthrie and Fraser next contributed to 4AD's collective Supergroup This Mortal Coil, being the sole players on the highly acclaimed cover of "Song to the Siren" by Tim Buckley. It was during these sessions that they met Simon Raymonde, who joined the group shortly thereafter as bassist and remained with them until the end of their career.
With the classic Fraser-Guthrie-Raymonde lineup now in place, The Cocteaus put out a long series of critically acclaimed albums and EPs that continued to refine their Dream Pop style. The one anomaly in this series is the album Victorialand, which Raymonde did not contribute to as he was busy working on the new This Mortal Coil album. As a consequence, Victorialand is a largely acoustic ambient dream pop album, featuring only vocals, reverbed guitars and occasional saxophone (courtesy of Dif Juz member Richard Thomas).
The band also began gaining attention over the Atlantic after signing a contract with Capitol Records in 1988 for US distribution. By this point, the relationship between the band and 4AD president Ivo Watts-Russell had soured, and he dropped them from the label after the release of the more accesible Heaven or Las Vegas, their most commercially successful album. Tensions also appeared in the band due to Guthrie's drug and alcohol abuse, and the end of Fraser and Guthrie's romantic relationship.
For their next move, the band signed with Fontana Records for global distribution while remaining with Capitol in the USA. Their first album for the label, Four-Calendar Café, was recorded amidst continued turmoil, with Guthrie entering rehabilitation for substance abuse and Fraser suffering a nervous breakdown. It departed even further from their trademark complex dream pop, moving instead towards clear, conventional Alternative Rock. It drew a predictably mixed reaction. Their next album, Milk and Kisses, returned to heavily-layered guitars and incomprehensible lyrics.
The band broke up in 1997 while recording a new album, due to irreconcilable differences. All three members have gone on their own ways, with Raymonde and Guthrie focusing on producing for other artists and recording solo albums. Fraser has had the most public exposure since due to her vocal contributions to Massive Attack's song "Teardrop" and "Lament for Gandalf" off Howard Shore's soundtrack for Lord of the Rings, but has otherwise stayed in a sort of semi-retirement, only rarely releasing new material.
The band were supposed to reunite for the 2005 Coachella Festival, but Fraser pulled out for "personal reasons".
- Garlands (1982)
- Lullabies EP (1982)
- Peppermint Pig EP (1983)
- Head over Heels (1983)
- Sunburst and Snowblind EP (1983)
- Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops EP (1984)
- The Spangle Maker (1984)
- Treasure (1984)
- Aikea-Guinea EP (1985)
- Tiny Dynamine EP (1985)
- Echoes in a Shallow Bay EP (1985)
- Victorialand (1986)
- Love's Easy Tears EP (1986)
- The Moon and the Melodies (1986) - collaboration with Ambient musician Harold Budd.
- Blue Bell Knoll (1988)
- Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
- Four-Calendar Café (1993)
- Snow EP (1993)
- Twinlights EP (1995) - acoustic album.
- Otherness EP (1995) - remix album.
- Milk and Kisses (1996)
- Lullabies to Violaine (2005) - box set with all the band's singles and EPs.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Yet another way of looking at Fraser's lyrics. According to Guthrie, when they went on tour in Japan they learned that audiences there had always thought she was singing in their language.
- Creator Breakdown - Fraser's massive psychiatric crisis in 1993 and concurrent romantic breakup with Guthrie was the beginning of the end.
- Creator Couple - Fraser and Guthrie.
- Dream Pop
- Early Installment Weirdness - Garlands is Post Punk, as opposed to the band's reputation as Dream Pop heroes.
- Echoing Acoustics
- Epic Rocking - Shows up occasionally, such as with "It's All but an Ark Lark", "Donimo" and "Lazy Calm".
- Indecipherable Lyrics - Leading to Mondegreens.
- Loudness War - Guthrie's remasters of the band's albums have been heavily criticised for this, with even fans advising others to seek out the original versions instead.
- New Sound Album - Head over Heels, Heaven or Las Vegas and Four-Calendar Café.
- One-Woman Wail
- Singing Simlish
- Subdued Section
- Record Producer - Raymonde and Guthrie's other line of work. Guthrie, for instance, produced Lush's Spooky.
- Translated Cover Version - Faye Wong did a few of these on her albums, since she's a big fan of the band.
- The Unintelligible - Fraser. Less so on Heaven or Las Vegas and Four-Calendar Café.
- Word Salad Lyrics
- Word Salad Titles
- Working with the Ex: A major reason why the band broke up, as Elizabeth Fraser didn't want to anymore.