Tinderbox Hearts

A series of reissues brings the Cocteau Twins' treasures to light

Perhaps that's part of what makes 1990's Heaven or Las Vegas a classic that competes with Treasure for best-of-catalog honors. Just when many had given the Cocteau Twins up for creatively dead, the band redeemed itself with lucid dynamic songcraft and a newfound vitality. Astonishingly, Fraser's lyrics come through crystal clear, and she trades in much of the operatic melisma for a more direct but no less accomplished tone. The change reflects less a concession to the mainstream than a sincere desire to enthrall the listener with more than remote intangible beauty.

This nearly flawless disc marked the last recording for 4AD; an acrimonious split with label honcho Ivo Watts-Russell drove them into the arms of Mercury Records in the U.K. (the band remained on Capitol in the U.S.). Sadly, HoLV was also the last truly inspired album they would make. Though the emergence of the Alternative Nation in the early '90s seemed to prime the band for a massive breakthrough, the trio was fracturing from growing families, side projects, drug and alcohol addiction, various psychoses, and years of vicious infighting. By the time they worked through their dysfunctions and got around to making a new album three years later, the momentum had dissipated. 1993's Four-Calendar Café lacked the ardency of its predecessor; maybe the healing process had extinguished the Twins' creative fire.

Three more years would pass before 1996's Milk & Kisses: Though pretty, it was a further indication that the band was cruising on autopilot. Likely sensing as much, the trio quietly gave up the ghost a year later. It was an anticlimactic ending, perhaps, that can't take away from the legacy of the Cocteau Twins' 4AD glory days -- a pioneering era always well worth revisiting.

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