“Heaven or Las Vegas” and the Backdrop of Dreampop

an early 90s album recommendation from the vault

Quinn Willerton, Staff Writer

The UK’s Cocteau Twins’ 1990 studio album “Heaven or Las Vegas”  became a staple of then alternative rock subgenre “Dreampop.” The group’s use of synths and soprano vocals demonstrated what the similar UK music movement synth pop could have been, but the Cocteau Twins have stood the test of time far better.

The Cocteau Twins (at the time of writing and recording “Heaven or Las Vegas”) was comprised of Robin Guthrie playing the oft-distorted guitar, Elizabeth Fraser on the other-worldly vocals, and Simon Raymonde on the multitude of instruments he played throughout the group’s existence. The album contains some of the group’s most acclaimed tracks, including “Cherry-Colored Funk,” “Heaven or Las Vegas,” and “Pitch The Baby.” Unlike some of their past works Fraser’s vocals on this album are more coherent and understandable, and for that reason this album got a lot of praise from critics (if you would like to understand more about Fraser’s interesting lyricism listen to the track “Pandora (for Cindy)” off of their “Treasure” album).

The album does a fantastic job of maintaining a similar theme throughout the songs. Some albums, especially albums released in the UK during the ’80s and ’90s jump between incredibly hard and dense songs to pop music notes. The Twins’ do a fantastic job of maintaining consistency throughout the tracks while still experimenting with synths and distortion. A prime example of this would be the track “Fifty-fifty Clown.” The track begins simply, but slowly evolves into Fraser singing vocals over a repeating bass-line, all while a gorgeous synth loop is playing. The song emphasizes how remarkably talented the group was.

Another song that is truly incredible is the aforementioned “Pitch the Baby.” The guitar and drums are both simple in thought and sound, but the synths add an element of depth and character that only Raymonde could achieve. The song fuses pop and synth to create a dreamy sound, with the end product being ethereal, charismatic, and gorgeous.

Overall, the album is incredibly good. It is influential and creative for its time. The importance of this album does not stop in Dreampop; signs of the Cocteau Twins appear in modern day pop and rock. I would give the album a stellar 8.5/10, highly recommending it to people who like groups like M83 and  Beach House.