It is hard for me to evaluate this album. It
is, in many respects, a sign of its time. It is the product
of a group of youngsters (Liz was 18, Robin barely 20) experimenting
within the sudden freedom of the punk explosion. It was a band
finding it's feet.
I find Garlands to be far more interesting historically
than musically. By itself it is a decent post-punk/proto-goth
album. The Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees were doing similar
things at the time, and doing it much better. (From what i have
read, at the time of this release the Twins were often compared
to Siouxsie & the Banshees).
Of course, i first heard this album in the early 90's, long
after my pretentious teenage goth faze had burnt itself out,
and after years of listening to Victorialand
and the like. As such, it was a tremendous disappointment. It
wasn't a lush wall of dense wandering sounds. It's more straightforward.
If later Cocteau Twins music is hazy, then Garlands
However, in some respects it is unfair to compare this to what
was to come later. Let me try and evaluate it's context as "the
At the time of the recording of Garlands, Cocteau
Twins were a trio: Robin Guthrie on guitar and drum machine,
Liz Fraser on voice, and Will Heggie on bass. Heggie was sort
of the leader of the group in a sense: his sinuous post-punk
bass riffage drives all 8 of the songs here. It is this strong
bass underpining that gives the album a real 1982 post-punk
feel. I would compare this to the way Jah Wobble's bass drives
Public Image Limited's Metal Box, or the way Peter
Hook's basswork drives New Order's Power, Corruption,
So Heggie's bass is the foundation of the music of Garlands.
Layered over that bass is a clunky drum machine, the Roland
808 if you believe the press. This was the standard drum machine
for a long time, and it's presence here is very typical. None
of the beats are challenging: they are there to provide a sort
of metronomic presence in the songs.
Robin Guthrie plays some of his harshest, punkest riffs on
this album. The guitar whirs and screams with lots of high-end
trebly distortion. His playing here is not as subtle as what
he later became known for. Still, it is very in keeping with
The final element to the sound is Liz Fraser's voice. When
Garlands came out, i i am sure that her singing
was very unique. She squeals and warbles her way through lyrics
that hover at the edge of comprehension. Her voice is harsh
here, not as refined as it would become, but there is a certain
power and presence to it.
But like i said earlier: they were young and this album shows
that. However, for what it is, it's pretty good. It's a dark,
moody, bass and squealing guitar laden lost epic of the post-punk
scene. For folks into this type of music, Garlands
is something to check out.
The album starts off with Blood Bitch diving head first
is the deep bass. This is followed by Wax and Wane, a
song which Mr. Guthrie was to remix in 1985 for the band's first
American release. I know the version from The Pink Opaque
better, and it still strikes me as odd to hear this orginal
mix. Here, the drum machine takes center stage, clinking it's
way through the beat. It is surrounded, enveloped, by Heggie's
bass in an unstoppable riff -- perhaps the best he has ever
done (although i say that with the caveat that his later work
is largely unknown to me). Fraser and Guthrie see-saw their
way through the melody. The overall effect: a fever dream of
paranoia. It's a great post-punk song.
The Twins follow that up with But I'm Not, a song in
which Fraser cuts loose vocally. She sings a deep, husky, jazz-influenced
(Etta James perhaps?) style that she wouldn't really return
to for years. Her vocal theatrics make this song noteworthy,
because otherwise the music is unremarkable after the intense
riffage of Wax and Wane.
Blind Dumb Deaf is up next, and is probably the weakest
track on the album. It seems to be The Robin Guthrie Show, as
the drum machine and guitar dominate the proceedings. Not bad
per se, just not as good as the rest of the album.
The next track, Shallow Then Halo is one i nver really
noticed until i listened to the re-mastered CD. I think that
this tune, of all the ones here, really benefitted the most
from the re-mastering. It sounds much less muddy in remastered
form than it did in the original. Of course this is true of
the whole album, but Shallow Then Halo had the most mud
removed. In general, this is a good gothy tune. Fraser's voice
is nicely layered, and you can almost uderstand her vocals here.
The bass and guitar complement each other very well too. Suddenly,
i find i like this song. Odd.
The Hollow Men is less goth more dub, as the drum machine
and bass notes echo about. Next is the title track, which is
a good rocking tune. And finally, the album ends with the decent
but not stellar Grail Overfloweth.
Overall, this isn't a bad album. On it's own. It is a very
typical album for the early 1980's, and it has a few tracks
that standout among the general mass of music from that time.
One thing about the 2 versions i now own. Until this version
came out, the version you were most likely to encounter was
a combined CD that included an early Peel Session and the 7"
single for Speak No Evil b/w Perhaps Some Other Aeon
tacked onto the end. That makes it a 14 track CD, and those
extra tracks are pretty good tunes in this same general vein.
This re-mastered edition strips the "added bonus tracks" from
the album, and restores it to it's orignal 8 song glory. After
years of hearing the compiled edition, this sounds somewhat
incomplete to me. When Grail Overfloweth peters out,
i expect to hear Dear Heart. It's wierd that it just
ends, but i guess that is my problem, caused by my familiarity
with the compiled edition only.
And the re-mastering really works here. Guthrie did a fine
job. Each song is less muddy than it was on the original release,
and the songs shine in the added clearness. I guess that i kind
of wish that Guthrie had remastered all of it, the album, the
Peel Session, and the 7", and put out the whole thing. But oh
well. Those Peel tracks made it onto the BBC Sessions
disc. But i am not sure if they were re-mastered there.....
At any rate, i would heartily endorse this record to fans of
that early 80's proto-goth/early new wave/post-punk sound. Cocteau
Twins had a unique interpration of that particular cultural
zeitgeist, and while they had better work to come, this is certainly
a worthwhile listen for fans of the genre. If, however, you
are a Cocteau/dreampop fan, be forewarned: this is pre-dreampop
Cocteau Twins. It's not what you think of when you think Cocteau