Released in August of 1983, one year and two months after Garlands, Head Over Heels opens with a thunderclap of a drum machine beat. "When Mama Was Moth" is easily one of the Cocteau Twins darkest and most intense songs. It is heavy drumbeats, a swirl of Robin Guthrie's guitar distorted by flange and reverb and Elizabeth Frazier's voice wailing through the cacophony. Becoming a duo – bassist Will Heggie had left and Simon Raymonde had yet to join – seemed to make the group stronger, more intense.
During a brief period of time when I was DJing Ceremony with some regularity (though not a regular and never to become one), I played "When Mama Was Moth" early in the night followed by "Birds of Death" by Diamanda Galás. The two songs work very well together, though neither is particularly danceable. Of course, when the club first opens, no one wants to dance anyhow. In the first hour of any goth night, you set the atmosphere while people get their drink on. Two or three beers or Kamakazees in and you've got the black-clad masses shuffling out to the dance floor (and wanting to hear singles and 12-inch edits).
Someone simply referred to as "Ally" is thanked in the liner notes for the saxophone in "Five Ten Fiftyfold." I don’t generally consider the saxophone a "creepy" instrument…until I hear it in this song (and "Sweethome Under White Clouds" by the Virgin Prunes…and "In Fear of Fear" by Bauhaus…).
"Sugar Hiccup" is downright pastoral compared to its two predecessors. Knowing now what was to come, it nods to a future full of "Fluffy Tufts," "Pearly DewDrops' Drops" and "Frou Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires." Track 4, "In Our Angelhood" frantically returns the album to status quo.
Despite retaining and, in most cases, increasing the darkness of Garlands, there's an emerging atmospheric and ethereal quality to Head Over Heels which wasn't present before. Perhaps it is all of the effects on the instruments or the fact that Frazier is mostly abandoning the English language in her lyrics, but this album was a big step.
Regarding the singing and lyrics (or perceived lack thereof), one only catches recognisable words in flashes on this album. "Multifoiled" sounds like post-punk jazz, with the title being the only comprehensible word sung in the song. Elsewhere, it's all scat-singing. And "Multifoiled" is hardly unique in having the title drop being the only recognisable thing sung during the song. Every other song I've mentioned – "When Mama Was Moth," "Five Ten Fiftyfold," "Sugar Hiccup" and "In Our Angelhood" is the same way. If lyrics are a painting, we're looking at a piece of impressionism or surrealism when popular music usually demands obvious abstractions or flat out realism.
Head Over Heels is five minutes longer than Garlands, but feels much shorter. I find myself speeding through these songs, many of them in ¾, drawn in and then quickly hurried out of the other side. Final track "Musette And Drums" quickly fades out and I can scarcely believe that it's over already.