Cocteau Twins were a hugely influential post-punk/goth/ethereal band from Scotland who were active from the late 1970s to 1997. Elizabeth Fraser and guitarist Robin Guthrie were there from day one until the end. Their original bassist Will Heggie was replaced by Simon Raymonde in 1983. He stayed aboard until the band sloppily broke up in 1997. Fraser and Guthrie were also lovers, and had a daughter together. Although they called that relationship quits in 1993, they carried on until the end. Because the band was trapped under a recording contract and because Fraser couldn’t walk away, they released two albums even after relations had soured, professionally and romantically, within the band.
The Cocteaus are one of my favorite bands. Their Heaven or Las Vegas is one of my “desert island” discs. My favorite item in my physical library is the boxed set that they released in 1991. 10 CDEPs, one of which is exclusive material. The set is packaged in a lovely box draped in heavy cloth. The box itself is a pretty sweet item. I was lucky enough to score a first edition used copy of the boxed set back in 1994. According to the shopkeeper, the person who sold it was in really dire straits. His desperate situation became my lucky break. It’s long out of print, as is the second printing.
An album version of “Sugar Hiccup” appeared on Head Over Heels (1983), but I much prefer the 12″ version from the Snowburst and Snowblind. The main difference is the bridge from the first chorus to the second verse. There’s some really amazing and really delicate vocalizing going on there, deep in the mix.
“Sugar Hiccup” (12″ version) by Cocteau Twins
On almost every song, Elizabeth Fraser sang in a deliberately incomprehensible way. More glossolalia than singing. For most of this song, though, the lyrics are not only audible, but they’re comprehensible. However, during that little section I like so much, it’s all just angelic chanting.
I never really paid much attention to it before, but when I listened to it about twelve times in a row to write this post, I realized that “Sugar Hiccup” is in 3/4 time. That might explain why we like it and “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops” so much over here. We’re big fans of the 3/4 timing.
There was a rumor for some time that Elizabeth Fraserhad invented a language of her own, and this was perhaps perpetuated by the fact that they never published lyric sheets. Although confounding, her vocals were airy and beautiful. It was often written that she had “the voice of god”.
In their career, The Cocteau Twins rarely gave interviews. The liner notes in their records were minimal. Their song titles were sometimes utter nonsense. Sometimes the song titles made reference to obscure mythology. Liz Fraser’s vocals couldn’t be deciphered. There was, then, a lot of mystery surrounding this band. Even right up to the end, they were something of an enigma.
“Sugar Hiccup” was a bit of a big deal because it was the first and one of only a few songs in their entire catalog to have understandable lyrics. One of the few from the whole catalog where the song title is part of the lyrics.
I never saw the Cocteau Twins live, and it burns me up. I only had one chance, late in their career. I either didn’t know about it until it was sold out, or I didn’t have the time/money to make the out-of-town trip. I just know that I didn’t go. I have lots of regrets and lots of “ifs and buts” in my life, and high on that list is that I never saw the Cocteaus. There was some rumor a few years ago that they were going to play Coachella and tour the US, but it never happened. And it’s never going to. Here’s really great article that explains the breakup, the aborted reunion, and a little bit about the famous tryst that Elzabeth Fraser had with Jeff Buckley.
If you “used to be” a fan of the Cocteau Twins, you need to drag out your copy of Head Over Heels this weekend. The album version of “Sugar Hiccup” is just fine, even if it doesn’t have that bit that I like. Overall, it’s a fantastic record that even I had underrated until a few years ago. Whereas I used to say without hesitation that Heaven or Las Vegas was my favorite record of theirs, I fell in love with Head Over Heels (sorry about the pun) when it was reissued in 2003.
The box set is out of print, but easy enough to find on-line. It’s a little spendy, so I might suggest hunting down a used copy of Snowburst and Snowblind somewhere. If all else fails, buy a copy of Head Over Heels from the 4AD site.