Do you ever walk down the road and get the sudden desire to listen to a song that you’ve not heard for years? Happened to me yesterday, it did, and that song was “Orange Appled” by Cocteau Twins.
If you were going to play a song by Cocteau Twins to someone who’d never heard them before, what would you do? One of the classic singles, like “Iceblink Luck” or “Carolyn’s Fingers”? A great album track, like “Cico Buff” or “Lorelei”? Or would you choose a song that was first released on a free 7″, by NME, and then only later added to the CD release of a reasonably obscure EP?
Because Orange Appled is that song. Strangely neglected by the band when first recorded, it’s one of their absolutely finest songs. Less than three minutes long, it’s about as conventional as Cocteau Twins songs get – you know, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight/solo, chorus, end. It’s got the signature mid-80’s Cocteau sound, with drum machines, about three layers of vocals, fluid basslines, and some seriously messed up guitar sounds¹. But it just works so beautifully, and it gels together into one short lump of absolute gorgeousness.
Admittedly, the EP was released at an odd time for the band. They’d already recorded “Victorialand”, without Simon Raymonde, and “The Moon And The Melodies” with Simon and Harold Budd that year. The former was disappointing, the latter really quite good, and still worth a listen now. So, releasing a proper Cocteau Twins EP at the end of 1986 rather than writing the rest of the material for a 1987 release was decided to be the best route (“Blue Bell Knoll” was the next release, in 1988).
So, EP it was, and “Orange Appled”, for some strange reason, almost got lost. Still, the band loved it enough to have it recorded live and broadcast on the fantastic Snub TV, four years later!:
Which leads me onto another digression². Cocteau Twins, despite being a huge studio band, were also a fantastic live band. There’s an additional urgency and passion to their music live that they never really captured in the studio. Of course, later in their career this was because Robin Guthrie was off his nuts the entire time, and Liz Fraser was doing her best to avoid him (what with them being married, and all), leaving poor Simon stuck in the middle. But even in the late-80’s, when all was (fairly) well, they were still a great live act. I was lucky enough to catch them live in Sheffield on the “Heaven Or Las Vegas” tour and still consider it to be one of the best gigs I’ve been to, nearly 20 years and about 300 bands later.
Anyway, Orange Appled rocks. Which got me onto the rest of the EP. As it was written at the height of wibbly-wibbly-trees-flowers-ethereal-woo nonsense lyric time, there really isn’t much sense in dissecting what Liz was on about. Some remarkably brave people have posted lyrics; I’m not 100% convinced they are correct, or even close, but what you can see is that they don’t make much sense3. Liz famously strung together proper words in nonsense sentences, to form another instrument, and expression emotion in the way she sang, rather than what she was singing. However, she did state in an interview back in late 1986 that “Well, I do sing about life. Life with Robin; coping with him. They’re all words that I sing. There’s none of it that’s just nonsense. You can’t just go out there and sing noises all day because you’d end up making the same noises all the time”. Still, whatever she’s singing, it sounds gorgeous, as you’d expect.
“Love’s Easy Tears” opens the EP and is probably one of the loudest songs they ever did. Ok, we’re hardly talking about Swans loud, but still, it fairly explodes at the chorus, thumping drum machine taking no prisoners. Whilst it’s rare to pick up external influences to their music, you can certainly hear the Spector Wall Of Sound in this one. And as far as their music goes, it was one of the simpler numbers, but hugely effective. Ah, those chiming guitars!
“Those Eyes, That Mouth” is a bit quieter, thumping drum machine not withstanding, and after what could fairly be described as a humdrum verse, suddenly bursts into life in the chorus, with Liz doing some amazing vocal gymnastics. The last minute sees her singing against herself in the most stunning way. Continuing the slightly Spanish sound of Tiny Dynamine/Echoes In A Shallow Bay, it has that otherworldly feel that marks the finest Cocteau Twins songs and makes them damn hard to copy.
Then comes “Sigh’s Smell of Farewell”, calming things down somewhat. Much gentler, Liz’s vocals float gorgeously over Robin and Simon’s guitar and bass, guitar cheerfully chiming away until a belated chorus, again with Liz’s voice singing multiple harmonies to wonderful effect. Sonic cathedrals of sound, indeed.
Finally it’s “Orange Appled”, which I’ve already gone on about. Just one more thing to say, though. Robin Guthrie often said that he used so many guitar effects to hide his bad playing, but listen to the solo on this; it dances round like the best of Tom Verlaine. Personally I think he’s hugely underrated; he showed what could be done with a Fender Jazzmaster, loads of effects, and more coke than you could shake a rolled up £10 note at.
You might be able to buy the EP as a CD cheap off Ebay, but you’re much better off buying the huge compilation “Lullabies To Violaine”, of which you can buy Volume 1 here. Volume 2 isn’t as good, frankly, and the original 4CD set now sells for around £80. Eek!
So, if you don’t have any Cocteau Twins stuff, or you’ve been curious as to why they are so highly regarded by pretty much anyone with any sense, have a listen to these two songs, then go out an buy “Lullabies To Violaine Volume 1”. You won’t regret it.
¹ If you know how to replicate it on a Line 6 Pod XT, please feel free to let me know!
² Anyone who knows me IRL will know I do this rather a lot. Sorry.
3 From “Heaven Or Las Vegas” onward, lots of the lyrics do make sense. Check out the link, and also Leesa Beale’s site.