At the height of the Cocteau Twins' fame, when they were one of the bands on whom the very notion of indie music in the 80s rested, it would have seemed unimaginable for Elizabeth Fraser to become any more enigmatic than she already was. In one of the all-time great huffy reactions to a bad review, she'd responded to criticism of the lyrics on the first Cocteau Twins album by declining to sing anything intelligible again.
And yet, since the Cocteau Twins' traumatic mid-90s demise, more enigmatic is precisely what Fraser has become. In 15 years, she's released a grand total of three songs under her own name and never performed a solo concert. Understandably, the air in the Royal Festival Hall is fraught with expectation.
Equally understandably, Fraser looks nervous, a tiny, grey-haired figure who never speaks beyond one barely audible "thank you" and the introduction of a special guest who turns out to be, of all people, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett: he plays a nylon-stringed guitar while Fraser's voice flutters around it. The former sounds good, but the latter sounds incredible, if slightly different from the way you remember it. You notice the shift most when she sings Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren as an encore: the swooping bravura of her legendary 1983 recording has been replaced by something more intimate and delicate, if no less remarkable. The scattering of Cocteau Twins songs she performs have been rearranged to accommodate the change in her style: they've been stripped down slightly, which actually works in their favour. If you had to level a criticism at the Cocteau Twins' 80s oeuvre, it's that the booming drum machines, flanged bass and reverb-drenched synthesisers sound a little of their era. Pared-back, something like 1984's Donimo sounds not just unique – it always sounded unique – but timeless, too.
Almost half the set is new material: strange and serpentine in structure, entirely mesmerising, this music could audibly only be the work of one person. It says something that one track, on which Fraser's voice moves lightly over samples of woodwind and choral voices, receives as vociferous a response as any of the old stuff. Of course, there's no guarantee you'll ever hear any of them again, except on bootlegs – there's been no mention of any further shows, or of completing the album scheduled for release five years ago. Indeed, there's no mention of anything from Fraser: she leaves the stage with a polite nod and a wave to the crowd, her enigma intact.
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