COCTEAU TWINS-HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS.

COCTEAU TWINS-HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS.

In a previous article about Annie Barker, and her album Mountains and Tumult, I mentioned that former Cocteau Twin, Robin Guthrie, produced the album, and that Annie Barker sounded like Liz Fraser, another former Cocteau Twin. This made me think that maybe the time was right for an article about the Cocteau Twins. So, I spent some time listening to their albums, and have decided that I will review the Cocteau Twins album Heaven Or Las Vegas.

The Cocteau Twins were formed in 1979 and between 1979 and 1997 the Cocteau Twins became one of Scottish music’s biggest exports, releasing eight studio albums, as well as numerous singles, EP’s and compilations. Originally, the Cocteau Twins comprised of vocalist Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie who played guitar and drum machines and Will Heggie on bass guitar. Bass player Heggie, subsequently left the band in 1983 the year after the release of their debut album Garlands, and just after the release of their second EP was released. Heggie was replaced by Simon Raymonde. Such an event could have damaged a new group badly, however, this was not the case with the Cocteau Twins. The loss of Heggie had a positive effect on the group’s musical direction, as they then went on to develop the sound that they became famous for, and that the group’s ever expanding fan-base enjoyed. Throughout their career the Cocteau Twins attracted a worldwide following of fans and their albums received good reviews from music critics. By 1990, the group were in their prime. This was the beginning of a period that would see them release three great albums, Heaven Or Las Vegas in 1990, Four Calendar Cafe in 1993 and their final studio album in 1996, Milk and Kisses. 

The release of Heaven Or Las Vegas came at an eventful time in the group’s personal life. Robin Guthrie became addicted to drugs, and Liz Fraser had just given birth to a daughter a year earlier in 1989. Motherhood had an effect on Fraser and on this album are much more intelligible than on previous albums, and many of the lyrics are about her new daughter. Because of Guthrie’s “rock ‘n’ roll flu”, Simon Raymonde plays a bigger part on this album. When you listen to the album, his bass playing has a more prominent role that on previous albums. This, to me, is one of the reasons that this album is such a good one. However, after the release of the album and the concert tours to promote the album, 4AD released the album from their contract. This was said to be down to Guthrie’s drug problems. Luckily for the Cocteau Twins, Guthrie entered rehab and cleaned up, they signed a new recording contract with Mercury Records and a new member joined the band, Japanese guitarist Mitsuo Tate. 

The Cocteau Twins released Heaven Or Las Vegas back in 1990 on the 4AD record label. Heaven Or Las Vegas was their sixth album, and became the Cocteau Twins most successful album in terms of chart position, reaching number seven the UK charts. Like all of the Cocteau Twins albums, it is hard to place Heaven Or Las Vegas in a musical genre. Many people have tried to categorize their music, and it has been called ambient, dream pop, post punk and new wave. All I will say is that the Cocteau Twins have a sound that is unique, I would refer to it as ambient, but will let you make your own mind up. When you listen to the ten tracks on Heaven Or Las Vegas, you will hear the Cocteau Twins evolving as a group. The sound is much more accessible than that of their earlier music. This is why Heaven Or Las Vegas is a good starting point for anyone who wants to find out more about the Cocteau Twins’ music. Indeed I would recommend anyone unfamiliar with their work to buy their final three albums Heaven Or Las Vegas, Four Calendar Cafe and Milk and Kisses. In my opinion, this is the best way to buy the Cocteau Twins music.

So what are the songs on Heaven Or Las Vegas like?  Throughout this album you will be fortunate to hear Liz Fraser’s ethereal and beautiful voice singing barely intelligible lyrics, and when you can hear the lyrics, they have a surreal quality about them that is synonymous with the Cocteau Twin. This is their sound, a sound no other group can replicate. Some people say that it although beautiful, it defies description. However, I will now attempt to do that.

 The first song Cherry-Coloured Funk is a slowish song, it never rises over ninety beats per minute. The track begins with Guthrie’s guitar shimmering, inviting Liz Fraser’s ethereal voice to accompany, and compliment his guitar playing. This she does beautifully, with her voice singing lyrics that are just intelligible, but at the same time have a gorgeous sound to them.

Pitch the Baby is the second song and starts with synth and guitar and then Fraser voice quickly steals the show. This song has the same tempo as Cherry-Coloured Funk but features a fuller and sharper sound. What it does have in common with Cherry-Coloured Funk is Fraser’s beautiful vocal. On this track she sings the lyrics faster, and because of the fuller sound she is almost competing with the instruments on the track.

The next track Iceblink Luck is a faster track, with a much more rounded sound than the previous track. On this track the drums play a much more prominent role and the guitar is louder. This does not spoil the track though. In fact, quite the opposite, as Fraser employs a much stronger vocal style.

Fifty-Fifty Clown is a departure in style from the previous track. Instead, what we have here is slower track, a return to the tempo on the first two songs. This track is a showcase for Fraser’s voice. There is a lushness to the track that allows Fraser’s ethereal voice to shine. This is a track that is made great by Fraser’s vocal performance.

On the next song, the title track Heaven Or Las Vegas, there is yet another change in style. The sound has a sharper jagged edge to it. Fraser employs a different vocal style, a louder, fuller sound that fits with the rest of song’s sound, to sing the almost surreal lyrics.  The band’s overall sound is a much fuller sound, at odds with the previous track. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. This is something that long-time listener’s to the Cocteau Twins music have come to expect. Heaven Or Las Vegas is a good track, it demonstrates the way that the Cocteau Twins sound can evolve from one track to the next.

I Wear Your Ring sees the Cocteau Twins up the tempo significantly. This is one of the quickest songs on the album, and is also one of the most beautiful. Fraser reserves one of her best vocal performances for this track. The rest of the band choose this track to produce one of their best performances on this album. To me, this is the second best song on the album, Fifty-Fifty Clown to me, being the standout track on the album.

Fotzpolitic, the seventh track on the album sees Fraser give another great vocal performance. The track has a somewhat subdued feel to it. The band and Fraser seem to be playing and singing within themselves, almost holding something back. This does not detract from the track’s quality. Instead, it adds to the track’s impact. 

On Wolf In the Breast you will hear a classic Cocteau Twins song. The song has everything you could want in one their songs, Fraser’s haunting vocal, Guthrie’s shimmering guitar’s, and now retro-sounding drum machines, and Raymonde’s steady bass, proving a rhythmic backdrop to the group’s overall sound. This is a quality track from a group who were not experiencing the easiest of times when this album was recorded.

The penultimate song on Heaven Or Las Vegas is Road, River and Rail has a mellow and atmospheric sound to it. The band play behind, and compliment Fraser’s gorgeous haunting and ethereal voice. It would be easy to say that Fraser steals the show on this track. However, that would be unfair. This song succeeds because of the contributions of all the band members, not just one individual.

The final song on the album is Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires. This track is a perfect way to close the album. The song starts with a gentle piano intro and then goes on to feature a stunning vocal performance from Fraser that has no equal on this album. This is the song with the fastest tempo on the album and is at odds with the tempo of most of the songs on the album. However, this is a gorgeous song that never you will never tire of.

That is the story of the Cocteau Twins album Heaven Or Las Vegas. This was, to me, one of the finest albums in the Cocteau Twins career. Now that you have read this review, I hope that you will be inspired to go out and buy this album. If you do, you will not be disappointed. What you will have purchased, is a great album, by a great band. Sadly, the Cocteau Twins split up in 1997, so we will never hear their music again. This album is a gorgeous, lush, soundscape which features Liz Fraser’s stunning, ethereal voice. Each track is quality, never disappointing, and that is no mean feat. After all, how often do you hear an album where each track is of the same high standard? That is what we have here. If, after you have listened to Heaven Or Las Vegas you wish to buy other Cocteau Twins albums, I would recommend that you next buy Four Calendar Cafe and Milk and Kisses. Those two albums and Heaven Or Las Vegas are the most accessible albums in the Cocteau Twins back-catalogue, for a newcomer to the music of the Cocteau Twins. After that, you may wish to investigate the remainder of their back-catalogue. What you will find is some great music, that I am sure you will enjoy discovering. Standout Tracks: Fifty-Fifty Clown, Heaven Or Las Vegas, I Wear Your Ring and Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires.

COCTEAU TWINS-HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS.


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