Friday October 7, 2005

A Kissed Out Red Float Post

Having recently posted about the Cocteau Twins and about the meanless text included in spam email, I realized the two subjects are related in an interesting way.  Liz Fraser, the lead singer of the Cocteau Twins, is famous for the very strange way she articulated the lyrics of their songs.  She's not just singing pure notes—there are actual consonants and vowels in there—but it's not any language I know.

If you listen closely, especially to the Twins' last album Milk & Kisses, you can sometimes make out sections in English, but even those often don't seem very meaningful.  For example, in "Iceblink Luck" on Heaven or Las Vegas, Liz pretty clearly sings, "You yourself and your father don't know so much in your own way"...whatever that's supposed to mean.  (It reminds me of "More people have been to Russia than I have.")

People have been trying to figure out what Liz was singing literally for decades.  The Cocteau Twins FAQ has this to say on the subject:

What is Elizabeth singing?

One of the true "holy grails" of alternative music for many years, and probably the question Liz would most like journalists and fans to stop asking. She's had a lot to say about it over the years, but has stopped short of actually revealing any lyrics, with few exceptions. Some of the lyrics on the earlier work—and definitely songs on Heaven or Las Vegas, Four-Calendar Café, Twinlights and Milk & Kisses—contained a lot of clearly understandable lyrics (and the song "Violaine" is actually English words sung backwards). Most of it is simply the by-product of the way Liz pronounces words or chooses to distort them and her grammar to suit to sound of the song or the melody. She has often used foreign words from other languages just for the way they sound or even look on paper, and has even resorted to singing the scientific names of butterflies (on the song "Melonella," from Echoes In A Shallow Bay). Ultimately, it doesn't much matter. It's better to simply enjoy the music.

If you've never heard any of their music, this may strike you as overly intellectualized and self-conscious, but the result is really beautiful.  Liz's singing of speech sounds or random words rather than actual language is pure music, I think—it allows her voice to become a verbal, but non-narrative, musical instrument.

Given Liz's way of singing, the names of Cocteau Twins songs are obviously a little more arbitrary than songs by other artists that have real lyrics.  It's often possible to pick out a phrase in a Cocteau Twins song that sounds more-or-less like the title, but not always.  But like her singing, the song titles are still speech that's beautiful in a way unconnected with any meaning.  Here's a selection my favorite Cocteau Twins song titles:

Shallow Then Halo
When Mama Was Moth
Five Ten Fiftyfold
Sugar Hiccup
Glass Candle Grenades
Musette and Drums
Pearly Dewdrops' Drops
Fluffy Tufts
Oomingmak  [Actually, this is the Inuit word for musk ox—it means 'the bearded one']
Blue Bell Knoll
The Itchy Glowbo Blow
Spooning Good Singing Gum
A Kissed Out Red Floatboat  [hence the title of this post]
Ella Megalast Burls Forever
Pitch The Baby
Iceblink Luck
Fifty-fifty Clown
Wolf in the Breast
Frou-frou foxes in midsummer fires
High Monkey Monk
Sigh's Smell of Farewell
Orange Appled
Calfskin Smack

I particularly like "Ella Megalast Burls Forever".  It sounds almost like an advertising slogan.  (Ella's Megaburls Last Forever—Guaranteed!)

For contrast, compare these titles to the gibberish I've received in email spam.  The Cocteau Twins titles may not contain much more meaning than the spam, but they're much more pleasing to pronounce, don't you think?  It's too bad they never recorded a song called "Cellar Door".

[Now playing: "Violaine" by the Cocteau Twins]

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
12:44 PM in Linguistics , Music , Web/Tech | Submit: | Links:


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Haha, this is really funny. I was listening to "IceBlink Luck" trying to come up with some meaning for the lyrics and this was the first thing that came up.

Very interesting....I'm not creepy by the way, lol :) I'm just new to the Cocteau Twins

Posted by: Caroline at Apr 17, 2006 2:48:29 PM