On their second album "Head Over Heels" the Cocteaus achieved all that the youthful "Garlands" promised. With the arrival of new bassist Simon Raymonde they unleashed a great creative splurge here to come up with a highly original sound and a pretty much flawless set of songs. Far from being delicate and wispy, this is ethereal with attitude. Liz Fraser's voice penetrates clearly through the ornate gothic background. Fragments of English are mixed with semi-improvised syllables, with the English always coming forward for the strong title hooks. Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde's guitar spider-web is just as confident and varied, from jangling prettiness to strong goth riffs and growling sneers. It's colourfully topped with sounds like xylophones and sax, or backed with a string drone.
The way the vocals stand out, sometimes clashing dissonantly with the guitars, is spine-tingling. Although the Cocteaus were to do some outstanding stuff in the future, it's a mild pity they would never do anything quite like this again - they would always put prettiness over punkish dirtiness. On this CD, the original Head Over Heels album is coupled with an EP, "Sunburst and Snowblind". This is a taste of the crisper style that the Cocteaus were to evolve towards, with jangly guitars, more forward vocals, and straightforward tunes.
September 20, 2004