Review Summary: A masterpiece of dream pop, as well as an ethereal and emotional experience, Heaven or Las Vegas is 37 minutes of sheer beauty.
When an album connects with a listener so flawlessly and personally, it can be quite the challenge for said listener to sum up the album in an objective manner, as in many cases, any attempt at reviewing the record will undoubtedly lead to biased conclusions. Reviews can be personal to an extent though, as much of the aesthetic appeal of music in general equates to the personal tastes and sensibilities of the listener, especially when it comes to a genre that relies so heavily on the atmosphere, texture, and emotion as opposed to technicality or musical virtuosity.
Cocteau Twins are, in my humble (and personal) opinion, one of the most underappreciated and unrecognized groups of both the 80’s and the early 90’s. They managed to maintain a gorgeously lush and icy sound throughout the majority of their career and were practically without peer in the genre of dream pop. The impeccable mix of guitars and synths always managed to create an otherworldly and inviting atmosphere, and Elizabeth Fraser’s wonderfully unique, quirky, and downright angelic voice carried the groups sound to astoundingly beautiful heights. This was truly heavenly music, and practically none of their albums displayed this mastery better than Heaven or Las Vegas
The first aspect to address about this album is the incredibly uplifting and comforting vibe that radiates off of each and every track. The general mood here is one of blissed-out fascination and joy, and it can be quite easy to zone out or doze off to many of these songs. Said mood is perpetuated by the intuitive instrumentation. The layers of guitars provide both a glowing rhythmic drive and a beautifully textured accompaniment to the simplistic, yet effective bass line. The percussion is basic and likely programmed in most cases, but this basic nature succeeds in leaving the focus on guitars and vocals unimpeded, as well as holding a steady, and at times, quite groovy beat. Finally, Elizabeth Fraser’s voice serves as arguably the most important aspect of the album, let-alone the sound of Cocteau Twins’ entire catalog. The group would never be elevated to such an artistic height where it not for the fragile, articulate vocalizations of Frazer, and her performance here is arguably her best since Treasure
, or even her entire career.
Songs certainly vary in intensity and style as well. Tracks such as “Iceblink Luck” and “Fotzepolitic” seem very anthemic and celebratory in nature with the slightly higher emphasis on higher ranged sounds, whereas others songs like “Heaven or Las Vegas” and “Wolf in the Breast” are more relaxed and blissful, in part due to the considerably lower tempo and deeply drawn-out chords. Then there are masterpieces like “Fifty-Fifty Clown” and “Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires” that basically floor the listener with overwhelmingly dense, melodious progressions and outstanding layered vocals by Fraser, ultimately equating to tear-jerkingly gorgeous songs.
The main criticisms against this album generally lean toward a relative lack of complexity or originality, and while these can be sound arguments, they don’t hold much weight with me in this case because of the practically flawless execution and passionate performance. The sound is one that has always clicked with me, all the way since my first listen to “Cherry-Coloured Funk”, and I personally can hardly find any relevant flaws as a result. To me, this album represents a celebration of the personal, individual experience of music as an entity, with nothing but sheer emotion and feeling given the center stage, and when music is this pure and elegant, and evokes such positive emotions upon every listen, any and all doubts of this being a classic to me are erased. This is simply some of the most beautiful music to ever be released in any medium, and I urge all to give this a listen at least once. You may have just as pleasant and personal an experience with this album as I’ve had.