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At the Cocteau ‘Cafe’ : Scottish trio’s latest album reflects a turbulent period of personal growth. Southland gig begins Sunday at Universal Amphitheatre.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Cocteau Twins, the Scottish trio whose moody, ethereal style was one of the most influential sounds in ‘80s pop-rock, suffered through a period that was anything but peaceful while working on their latest album, “Four-Calendar Cafe.”

After the band finished its 1990 tour, guitarist Robin Guthrie, 31, concentrated on kicking a drug habit, which led the group’s singer (and Guthrie’s longtime girlfriend), Elizabeth Fraser, and bassist Simon Raymonde to examine their own lives and their relationships as band members.

“We all got involved in Robin’s recovery quite heavily, and as a result learned quite a bit about ourselves,” said Raymonde, 31, during a stop on a U.S. tour that will include three Southern California performances beginning Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre.

“What makes us all so much stronger is that we’ve sorted out our lives and come out the other end. That’s what the whole new record is about to me--opening doors. There’s a lot of what’s gone on in the last few years stuffed in there.”

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Fraser, 30, whose vocals have usually consisted as much of exotic sounds as actual words, wrote “proper lyrics” and sang them in a relatively straightforward fashion for “Four-Calendar Cafe,” a haunting album that’s more direct emotionally than most of the band’s previous collections.

“I was just journaling really,” she said of her new approach to lyrics. “I just got so depressed. There’s a lot about my hope (on the album).”

Influenced by such punk and new wave acts as the Buzzcocks, the Birthday Party and Public Image Ltd., the Twins pioneered a new brand of dreamy, textural pop in the early ‘80s. Though they didn’t have a major-label U.S. distribution deal until they signed one with Capitol in 1988, they became critical favorites and influenced such bands as the Sundays and the Cranberries.

The Twins continued to evolve musically, making increasingly complex albums at their studio near their home in London. “Four-Calendar Cafe” is less musically dense than the band’s recent albums, and the airiness left in its songs allows Fraser’s delicate singing to better shine through the Twins’ beautiful haze of layered guitar and quietly beating drum machines.

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“I think that subconsciously we wanted to not just keep putting more and more layers of music on just for the sake of it,” Raymonde said.

While “Four Calendar Cafe” only reached No. 78 on the national pop charts after its November release, it has so far nearly matched its predecessor with sales of more than 200,000 in the United States--and Capitol plans to promote the album for at least several more months. On their last tour, the Twins played the Wiltern Theatre, and their move up to the 6,000-seat Universal Amphitheatre reflects the band’s growing commercial base.

The current tour--their first since 1990--will also be their first with a full band. Having previously relied on sequencers to reproduce the full sound of their albums, the band is now touring with two more guitarists, a percussionist and a drummer.

“I used to be completely paranoid about live performance,” said Raymonde about the Twins’ decision to tour with a full band. “I wish we’d done it before because it sounds so much better.

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“What can you lose? Maybe we’ll bring some other musicians on a record one day. You’ve got to be open-minded about these things. You don’t really get anywhere unless you change.”

* The Cocteau Twins and opening act Luna appear Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, (818) 980-9421. $20 and $25. 8:15 p.m.; Tuesday at Symphony Hall, 1245 7th Ave., San Diego. $22.50. (619) 699-4205. 8 p.m.; Wednesday at Bridges Auditorium, Claremont Colleges, Claremont. $20. (909) 621-8032. 8 p.m.


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