by Ziggy Merritt
There is not another band quite like The Cocteau Twins. I mean this literally and without much pretension. At best you could occasionally compare the indecipherable vocals of Elizabeth Fraser to the high-pitched warble of Kate Bush but aside from having a critically acclaimed catalog of albums neither project share similar themes aside from the common struggle of insecurity.
Their first album of the 90s, and their last with label 4AD, is largely regarded as a seminal masterpiece. While it would be tempting to try and deny such a lauded pedigree this is one instance where every instance of praise and excessive adulation is fitting. Without Heaven or Las Vegas there would be no Beach House, there would be no Lower Dens, heck I’m emboldened to admit that half of the albums I’ve reviewed this year wouldn’t exist.
The grand thing about this album is that you don’t have to be a seasoned listener of the band to appreciate its artistry and ease. It’s hard to deny that Heaven or Las Vegas comes in as the band’s most approachable release as earlier Cocteau Twins’ albums often navigated through the dark recesses of post-punk and darkwave. You’d still be hard-pressed to comprehend Fraser’s vocal delivery, but the lyrics were never especially integral from the start. Instead Fraser developed the confidence in her voice that was lacking or far too abstract in previous works.
Along with this, the cultivated dream pop sound they had been developing since the release of Treasure in 1984 is more restrained and grounded. The title track has the benefit of Simon Raymonde’s prominent bass line and the distorted jangle guitar of Robin Guthrie to flesh out the hypnotic layering all without verging into the tragic territory of the avant-garde. Stack this up against any of David Bowie’s equally acclaimed Berlin Trilogy and you can decide for yourself which sound is easier on the ears. This shouldn’t diminish anyone’s love for the Thin White Duke, but the magic of Heaven or Las Vegas is its ability to be seminal without being simultaneously experimental.
The second track of the album, “Iceblink Luck”, gives an indication as to which direction the Cocteau Twins would ultimately take with their sound after their departure from 4AD. It’s uptempo and downright quaint without losing any of the ethereal haze that pervades each intricate layer of this album. Both Four-Calendar Cafe and Milk and Kisses would follow this trend before the trio separated in 1997.
In retrospect it might seem strange to look back at a band’s most popular release for this week’s Lost and Found, but while those in the indie circle owe at least part of their popularity to the creation of this album, few go so far as to name-drop the admittedly bizarre track titles. Instead, admit that “Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires” changed your life and be proud of the richly varied legacy that the Cocteau Twins have left behind.