Something a tad different…

In today’s blog, I thought I’d write about something a little different – music, or, more specifically, one particular singer: Liz Fraser.

I remember when I discovered this unique singer’s voice: 1983-84. I was in the last year of art college (or, more precisely, the last year before I would have been kicked out had I not left of my own accord), and I was madly in love with a certain young lady (we never actually got it together -typically I liked her more than she liked me). She it was who introduced me to the wonders of the Cocteau Twins, a trio featuring Robin Guthrie on guitar, Will Heggie on bass (eventually replaced by Simon Raymonde) and Fraser on vocals. It was honestly like nothing I’d ever heard before – a richly-layered cornucopia of instrumentation, utterly phantasmagorical and dreamy at the same time, and all topped off with Fraser’s vocal stylings, which ultimately led to the music being categorised as dream pop.

Certainly in the early years of the Cocteau Twins (a name apparently culled from a song of the same name penned by Johnny and the Self-Abusers, better known today as Simple Minds), Fraser eschewed traditional lyrics in favour of the sounds and textures created by the words themselves. There has been considerable debate amongst fans as to the meaning of her ‘lyrics’, but Fraser herself has shown great reluctance in discussing them – and this, in part, is why I particularly like their music, and Fraser’s approach. There’s a distinct sense of otherness about their oeuvre, and to invest specific meaning other than my own interpretation would somehow spoil it for me. Her atmospheric vocals, often combining a ‘pop’ sensibility and approach to melody (along with operatic swoops and non-traditional vocalisations) are what make the songs, not what the lyrics mean. In other words, it was nothing less than the invention of a new musical and lyrical vocabulary and syntax – and this is why, even today, her work stands out, head and shoulders above many others.

I’ve been listening a lot lately to 80s music, and realising that, despite the general awfulness of that decade (on both the personal and social scale), there was still a great deal of invention and just simply great music around. I have a new appreciation of what went on back then musically, but I realised that, above all else, Liz Fraser’s voice still has the power to move me like no other voice ever has before or since, almost three decades since I first heard her on Pearly Dewdrop Drops (the first record of theirs I bought).

The Twins broke up in 1998, but Fraser has been involved in all manner of collaborations (including the seminal Massive Attack song Teardrop), although her output is considerably less these days (and more’s the pity). One of her early collaborations was with This Mortal Coil (the 4AD ‘house band’), which produced the haunting Song to the Siren, a cover of the Tim Buckley song. (In a side note, Fraser also had a personal relationship with Tim’s son, Jeff  Buckley.) That version is one of the most beautiful cover versions I have ever heard – and we played it at Liz and mine’s wedding. It’s also the song I want played at my funeral.

I’ve been discovering songs that I never knew she’d recorded, and rediscovering ones I already knew well, ranging liberally from all eras of her career. One thing they share in common, however: the power to send shivers running up and down my spine. I honestly don’t think there’s any other singer out there who can do that to me, at least not on a consistent basis.  And I truly hope that the ‘new’ album of material that was meant to be released by Blanco y Negro does finally see the light of day – one can only anticipate the delights that one has yet to hear from this unique singer.

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2 Responses to “Something a tad different…”

  1. Fraser really is incredible. Blue Bell Knoll remains one of my favourite pieces of music ever. And yes, there’s that Massive Attack song too…

    Great blog, calling attention to a really wonderful singer.

  2. Great post. I too discovered Cocteau twins at around the same time. Just bought a 4AD box set and its still sublime music!

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