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. They 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 The 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) (made without bassist Simon Raymonde)
- 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.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: As an instance of the Cocteau Twins' greater emphasis on the sounding of the lyrics, than on their literal meaning, in Treasure there are several songs in which, most of the words begin with a certain letter. In "Ivo" this letter is P, in "Pandora" it's F, and in "Aloysius" it's S.
- 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. By her own admission, the more abstract songs sometimes used random combinations of foreign words.
- Christmas Songs: Snow consists of cover versions of two secular Christmas standards, "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty The Snowman".
- Dream Pop
- Early Installment Weirdness: Garlands is Post-Punk, as opposed to the band's reputation as Dream Pop heroes.
- And Peppermint Pig, their second EP, sounds more pop influenced, almost like they were The Police wannabes.
- Echoing Acoustics
- Epic Rocking: Shows up occasionally, such as with "It's All But an Ark Lark," "Donimo," and "Lazy Calm."
- Heartbeat Soundtrack: A particularly loud one starts off "When Mama Was a Moth" (and consequently, Head Over Heels as an album).
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Leading to Mondegreens.
- Longest Song Goes Last: "Donimo" on Treasure and "Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires" on Heaven Or Las Vegas.
- Also the case on Garlands and Four-Calendar Café, but both only barely.
- 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: Treasure brought some jazz and world beat influences in, making their sound even airier and a lot less Goth-y. Blue Bell Knoll boasted the fuller sound, and much more polished production, that characterized their last four albums.
- Non-Indicative Name: There were three of them, none of them related, and none of them named Cocteau.
- One-Woman Wail: Fraser's MO in the band, to the point where it could be argued she's singing in gibberish. And it sounds awesome.
- Speaking Simlish: As mentioned above, Fraser's style was this: Singing in gibberish or inaudible lyrics that can be compared to later shoegaze bands.
- Spiritual Successor: The Lullabies to Violaine collection is the successor to their earlier CD single box set.
- Subdued Section: All of their work, bonus points for programmed drums.
- 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.
- Titled After the Song: Their name came from the rare Simple Minds song "The Cocteau Twins," about two gay guys who were really into Jean Cocteau.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Even if you can understand what Fraser is singing, you'll still be scratching your head at what it means.
- Word Salad Titles: Look at their discography, with the exception of Treasure.
- Working with the Ex: A major reason why the band broke up, as Elizabeth Fraser didn't want to anymore.