Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

January 1, 2007

They say that there is no such thing as a casual Cocteau Twins fan. I’m starting to believe this more the more often I turn on my iPod. I can feel myself getting sucked into the bands undeniable beauty, and I’ll admit it, it feels great. I’m a straight male, and my heart got melted the first time I heard Lorelei. I didn’t know what to make of it, it was just so beautiful. At first I felt like I could break this habit by being a casual listener, but I think I may have completely skipped that classification without even having more than a few of the bands albums. The Best Of compilation Stars And Topsoil was nice, but simply not enough. I had to have more. So I got Treasure, the bands supposed best, and Heaven or Las Vegas, supposedly the second, third, or fourth best depending on the fan you ask. I was not disappointed. I love both albums thoroughly and yet I thirst for more. It is hard to say which of those two albums is better. If I had to really come to a decision, I would probably say Treasure, but both are fantastic. While Treasure is the album for a chill winter morning, Heaven or Las Vegas is conversely the album for a warm summer night. It takes a very talented band to make music of such opposite environments work so perfectly, and to be sure the Cocteau Twins will never fail you regardless of the time of day, and that is a reliability worth falling in love with.

In many situations, first impressions mean everything. In that respect the Twins know how to give you the best possible first impression possible when presenting their work to the listener. They did it with Treasure, that’s for sure, with a near flawless opening trio of songs. And they do it here too with the utmost precision and beauty. But even before listening to the music, the band has already shown you beauty even with the cover art. In many ways, this art encompasses the album very well. The music is blurry, surreal, artistic, urban, and drenched in warm neon. Every song is hand picked, like the rest of the Cocteau’s catalogue, and every song is very individual and special. The opening track, Cherry-Coloured Funk, echoes of aching beauty and special love that most other bands could not dream of musically working out through their entire careers. The Cocteaus could do it in their fucking sleep, and the listener would be left begging for more. The talent of these people is not to be underspoken. Very few others have surpassed this beauty of this band, you have to understand that. I’m still trying to come to grips with this fact even after only having two proper albums.

The style on this album is very urban but no less lush, tame, or special. Vocalist Liz Fraser (who may just be the best female vocalist in pop music history), has changed her style a bit, leaving her musings more intelligible. On albums such as Treasure, her words were not even words so much as angelic sounds and phrases that had no real connection to any other language. On this album she sings some unintelligible vocals like these, and some that are clearly meant to be real words that are simply warped a bit to sound more pretty. You can understand them sometimes, and when Ms. Fraser sings “Is this Heaven or Las Vegas?” on the title track, you really believe that she’s wondering such things about the city that never sleeps. Even when you can understand individual words around one another, they don’t make much sense, as Fraser wisely speaks more to how the words sound as opposed to what they actually mean. The bass plays a much heavier role, especially in the flowing dream-funk of the creepily named Pitch The Baby. Of course this role is passive and non-intrusive, and it works wonders. Robin Guthrie gives a knockout performance all over with his guitar work providing sonic texture for each song. Often times Guthrie ends up being the warm blanket to the listeners ears, and while his guitarwork is never extravagant, it always sounds delicious and ephemeral. This style is something that all guitar plays should be jealous of. Mr. Guthrie has a way with making one or two guitars feel like a thousand and therefore saying huge amounts of ideas with not so much to work with. While Liz Fraser may be the heart of the band, Guthrie is the soul and has a fantastic body of work to be proud of.

And as always, the drum machine is here, masterfully worked as usual. The beats are kept soft and many times slow, yet all the more driving than usual. Great stuff. They never fail to use the medium well.

On a side note, I have never been to Las Vegas but have heard both very good and very bad things about it. I think one thing that can’t be denied, even just from looking at pictures, is the beauty of the city at night. I have always been partial to driving around at night in urban areas, just to see all the lights. Sometimes I take pictures of all the neon as a passenger and I adore the feeling that all the blurred lights give me. From a photographers standpoint, Las Vegas would surely be heaven. I could never see myself living out in the country just because the lights would be so few and far between. While I do think I’d love to see the night sky lit up over a landscape that isn’t polluted by unnatural light, I have a natural attraction to not only large groups of people but also city lights, especially reflected through wet city pavement. Consequently, this has ended up being a very special album to me already.

Once again, the opening part is the best. There is a great one-two punch of Cherry-Coloured Funk followed by Pitch The Baby, two timeless songs, and if those weren’t great enough then Iceblink Luck will hit your soft side. It is a fruitful celebration of sorts, rejoicing over a loved ones ability to heal. It is absolutely gorgeous and one of the bands absolute best songs. I think a lot of times dream-pop bands forget that romance is key to their genre, and they sacrafice a bit of meaning for the sake of not seeming to sappy or something. Maybe it is a gift that the Twins can communicate these feelings of romance perfectly, but it is also a gift that they are not ashamed to do so. Iceblink Luck is this breed of sheer bliss. But the great tracks continue to expand beautifuly with multiple listens, Fifty-Fifty Clown and the title track being just as unspeakably beautiful as their predecessors. If there is any place where the album falters a bit, it is in the fact that the second half of the album is a bit less consistant than the first. This, however, can only be complained about so much, because the first half of the album is sheer perfection, five songs worthy of more awards than can be given. To say that the second half of the album is “only great” is a crime, because the whole damn thing is great. You just have to treat every song like an individual and things unwrap very nicely. Especially the ending… Oh, the ending. You have to kind of hear that to really understand it, so I won’t tell you anything about it. Listen to it with your heart in place and you will be taken away.

It’s okay to sound sappy sometimes. I get sappy when certain music comes on, this band producting some of that music. While this may not be better than some of the bands other work, namely Treasure and other albums that some other more knowledgeable fans will tell you of, it is still a killer album, and a true classic of it’s age. It is clearly the more accessible and poppy side of the bands work, and anyone who has any urban loves like I do or a desire to listen to good dream pop will NEED this album.

By the way, if you ever needed any proof that Liz Fraser is the best of her kind, watch this and prepare to be dropped gently to the floor.

And here is a video from the album, just as another piece of the beautiful puzzle.

One comment

  1. There are no casual fans, correct.

    I really think Head over Heels is their best record. It’s in very plain English, while remaining essentially singlemindedly given over to the beauty of emotion in human voice. It has a wan, haunting feel of production that’s really daring because there is not a lot of modulation and sweep in the compositions (see Heaven or Las Vegas) to give gravity to the music.

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