When Cocteau Twins broke up in 1998, it came as a surprise to virtually no one. Five years earlier, guitarist Robin Guthrie and vocalist Liz Fraser ended their 13-year romance, leaving the band to operate on thin ice.
“To be honest with you, I’m amazed that we stayed together as long as we did,” admits former bassist Simon Raymonde, who now runs the Bella Union label and records as one-half of Lost Horizons. “I was expecting the band to break up after [Robin and Liz] broke up. A normal band would have done that! But looking back on it now you can see why we did stay together, because the music was really important to all of us.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Milk & Kisses, the eighth and final studio album by the influential Scottish indie band whose celestial sounds helped birth both dream pop and shoegaze. Few would argue it was their finest moment, but with the recent vinyl reissues of Milk & Kisses and 1993’s Four Calendar Café, their final recordings have undergone reappraisal by their critics, fans and even the band members themselves.
“I don’t think the recordings are anywhere near the best we did by any stretch of the imagination,” Raymonde says. “I think the songwriting was good, but I always felt the record sounded muffled. The remastering has actually helped that, which is something I almost never say. I do have a lot of great memories of it, because as you know it turned out to be our last record.”
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Making Milk & Kisses proved to be a far easier task than its predecessor. Sessions for Four Calendar Café found the three band members avoiding each other, splitting studio time by working separately in shifts throughout the day. Fortunately, when it came time to record the next album, some wounds had healed.
“We worked quite closely together on this record, which we hadn’t done so much on the previous one,” Raymonde says. “Robin and Liz had broken up and it was a complex time. But I actually think the band was in a really good place during Milk & Kisses. Some time had passed and they were both in relationships with different people. All of the rawness was gone from their relationship. Ironically, Liz left a year or so after we finished it.”
While relations within the band were improving, relations with their label were deteriorating. Having left their long-standing home of 4AD following 1990’s Heaven Or Las Vegas, life with their new label Fontana (an “indie” subsidiary of major label Polydor) was “difficult, strained, and awkward.”
“We should never have done the deal,” says Raymonde. “It wasn’t [Fontana’s] fault, really. It was just how those labels work was alien to how we worked. We were very private and didn’t feel comfortable sitting in a room playing our music for people we didn’t know. I don’t think they liked working with us anymore than we liked working with them. Plus sales-wise the band was certainly on a downturn from where we were at with 4AD.”
Milk & Kisses didn’t achieve much critically or commercially for Cocteau Twins. After leaning into a more pop-focused sound that lifted the veil from Fraser’s vocals on Four Calendar Café, many felt returning to the obscured dream pop that defined them was too safe. But time has been kind to Milk & Kisses. Today it rings like a triumph: three musicians overcoming near disaster to find peace between each other for one last hurrah. The result was a far less devastating coda to go out on than the turbulent Four Calendar Café.
Of course, rumors circulated that Milk & Kisses almost had a successor. Sessions for a ninth album did occur before their disintegration. However, Raymonde is quick to confirm that Milk & Kisses is indeed their swan song, and despite a near reunion in 2005 to headline Coachella, Cocteau Twins “will never reform.”
“There are different stories out there, like, ‘Is the unfinished album ever going to be released?’ I don’t see how it could be,” Raymond clarifies. “I’ve listened back to [the music] and there are a few brilliant ideas in there, but in terms of an album, no. It would require way too much work for any of us to do. Best leave things where they are.”