It is hard to imagine Robin Guthrie’s music without the accompanying voice of his former better half, Elizabeth Fraser. Her vocal styling, a combination of mouth music and abstract lyrics, became a trademark of the Cocteau Twins and left a distinctive quality that remains even if she works with other musicians. Case in point was her 2003 collaboration with French avant garde artist Yann Tiersen from the album Les Retrouvailles.
However, it is a shame that many, including yours truly, often overlook Guthrie’s unique genius—not because he is a man overpowering Fraser, who admitted in an interview in 1996 that her over-dependence on Guthrie was her downfall, but simply because his talent overshadows his post-Cocteau efforts. The loquacious Guthrie is a producer (Lush, Wolfgang Press), a collaborator (movie projects), and a music all-arounder (engineering and programming).
After the cult band’s demise in the mid-’90s, the former members are still active in the music scene and their followers still celebrate their music. Every year, fans initiate an event known as the Cocteaufest where they feast on the compositions of Guthrie, Fraser, and Simon Raymonde with the indirect support from the former band members.
Imagine the moment I held Carousel for the first time. Mixed feelings surged in. I was part hesitant, part curious, and part excited. Being a long-time Cocteau Twins fan, would it live up to my expectations? Does Carousel have something new to offer? After listening a few times to Guthrie’s latest instrumental work, I had this strange feeling that Fraser’s vocal parts would suddenly appear only to be disappointed that this is no Cocteau Twins album.
After all these years, Guthrie is still making such atmospheric sounds known as dream pop. Carousel feels so utterly familiar that a tear or two will start coming down on your cheek. Once again, you can hear Guthrie’s guitar shimmer the way it did back then. Once again, here come the rich melodious basses that ruled Cocteau’s past albums—from Treasure to Victorialand to Heaven Or Las Vegas.
The opening track “Some Sort of Paradise” promises a good start. It is so ethereal and pure putting your mind at ease at once. The third song, and my favourite, “Delight,” is a pure delight itself. It recounts of danger and excitement. Perhaps, it is also a testament to adventurous sex. “Mission Dolores” is a poignant song that delivers sadness and urgency. The closest you can get to Guthrie’s well-loved Cocteau are through the songs “The Girl with the Little Wings” and “Waiting by the Carousel.” Images start to emerge from one scene to another—jellyfish, heavenly bodies, oceans, lost young women, innocent children, and faceless naked men. These are the things you associate upon listening to Guthrie’s music.
Don’t get me wrong. Though Carousel oozes with loveliness, it requires your full attention. Mind you, it isn’t intended to be played in the background. In order to appreciate the album you have to slow down, or, better yet, stop what you are doing. But once you decide to sit back, relax, and press the play button of your player to hear the ten operatic ditties, Guthrie’s magic dust that is Carousel never ceases to amaze.