Heaven Or Las Vegas - 1990

Heaven Or Las Vegas Cherry-Coloured Funk
Pitch The Baby
Iceblink Luck
Fifty-Fifty Clown
Heaven Or Las Vegas
I Wear Your Ring
Wolf In The Breast
Road, River And Rail
Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires

To select the best production from the repertoire from the Cocteau Twins is a nearly impossible task, but few fans would deny that Heaven Or Las Vegas is definitely one of the highlights of their career. On this album all the pieces of the puzzle seem to have fallen in exactly the right place. There are softer and louder songs, slower and quicker ones, relatively simple and more complex ones. The arrangements are marvellously beautiful and the production is excellent. All the things that they might have been looking for on earlier albums appear to have been found here.

One particular feature of this inspirational album is the way all the instruments melt together very naturally into the songs. There are few solo's or unusual sound effects. Another noteworthy aspect are the lyrics: for the first time Liz sings comprehensible if not always immediately obvious sentences. In most cases these sketch atmospheres, thoughts and fragments of events. Still it makes sense to read them or listen to them, as they provide valuable clues to the song's meaning and ideas.

On Heaven Or Las Vegas you feel that all the things the Cocteau Twins were looking for over the years finally came together. The band have often expressed discontent over earlier records, but in this case there is nothing left to be disgruntled about. Unless of course they felt it would be extremely hard to come up with another equally great production now that the standard had been set at such a high level.

Cherry-Coloured Funk

The guitar playing the introduction to Cherry-Coloured Funk has that warm and rich sound so characteristic for the entire album. Despite the suggestive title the song can hardly be categorized as 'funk', although it's hard to tell how a 'cherry-coloured' variation should sound.

Against a steady background of guitar and bass Liz is easily taking the limelight here with a creative combination of vocal effects. Her unusually low notes in the verse are counterbalanced by very high-pitched ones during the chorus. Following the band's normal practice the two are eventually mixed together beautifully in the latter parts of the track. And just when everything seems ready for a standard fade-out the song treats us to an unexpected and highly original conclusion when everything just stops dead within seconds.

With its pleasant melody and rhythms Cherry-Coloured Funk is an appealing song without too many complexities. In the context of their Heaven Or Las Vegas album one could observe that it is really the first of a sequence of ever more elaborated compositions.

The band later used fragments of the song to create a totally different version for their Otherness project.

Pitch The Baby

It is interesting to note that although most of the Cocteaus' work features fairly slow rhythms, on every album we find at least one really quick song. Thus on Garlands we find Wax And Wane, on Treasure there is Aloysius, and on Heaven Or Las Vegas it is Pitch The Baby that perfectly fits the bill in this respect.

The rapid pace is obvious from the very beginning, where a succession of slightly distorted and very quick notes on what is probably some kind of keyboard introduce us to the song. Although it is at times not too easy to hear it this instrument keeps going all through the song, right into the final fade-out, which is masterfully constructed from just this rhythm and a bit of additional percussion. It's not too often you can hear a fade-out being played at such a pace, but somehow the band make it sound quite natural.

Inbetween even Liz occasionally has a hard time to keep up with events happening at breakneck speed. One of the consequences is that in contrast to most of the rest of the album the lyrics are well beyond comprehension. Another is that she clearly has to catch her breath once or twice. She still manages to deliver a great melody line though, and mark the chorus overdub where she puts in a few extremely high notes, perhaps the highest ones she sings anywhere in a Cocteau Twins song.

This very rhythmic track sounds very busy, so it is a bit of a surprise to discover that there are not a lot of instruments involved. The rhythm instrument, some light percussion, vocals, an inconspicuous guitar and a very prominent bass - that's all. It's a far cry from the thick sound layers the band were weaving only a few years earlier. Clearly then the Twins no longer felt the necessity to use a lot of stuff to get results. Instead they allowed the composition to express itself using just a minimum of arrangement. To be able to make this simplicity concept work you need a really good song, but at this stage of their career that might have been the least of their problems.

Iceblink Luck

For once in their career the Twins came up with a melody that's easy to remember, a relatively simple song structure and a chorus you might even want to sing along to. So it is no surprise this track was also released as a CD-single - the first of their career after many, many EP's - to promote their Heaven Or Las Vegas album.

The track may be as straightforward as most of their repertoire is not, but that does not mean they did any concessions to the quality of it. There is an excellent introduction, the lead guitar is playing a beautiful duet with the bass, and towards the end there is a short but great instrumental part to introduce the final lines. And even though the chorus is very recognizable the band refrained from adding a fade-out, did not even play the chorus once again and provided an unexpected twist at the end instead.

Liz is sounding very steady and is not trying many vocal tricks. Even so the chorus features the usual overdub to suggest multivoiced background vocals. And in some other parts there are quite faint and easily missable traces of vocals as well - Liz singing background a few pitches higher.

Pearly Dewdrops' Drops and Iceblink Luck are probably the only times the Cocteau Twins composed something more or less playable to the general public. That in itself says a lot about how well they managed to steer clear of any commercial considerations.

Fifty-Fifty Clown

Rhythm is everything in Fifty-Fifty Clown, where an otherwise lighthearted and carefree track is dominated by a continuous beat. And at roughly 180 per minute it's a fairly quick affair as well.

One would expect the beat to be set by drums or percussion mostly, right? Wrong. The rhythm is mostly played by a guitar, backed up by only minimal amounts of percussion. Especially in the first parts the vocals are kept really simple, with Liz singing as gently as though on a stroll in the park.

The second half of the song provides a bit more depth though. Some vocal overdubs take care of the background vocals, and a few nice guitar loops are put in as well. After that the song simply resorts back to the same beat it started out with, and finishes without much more ado.

While many Cocteau songs contain a lot of hidden treasures, Fifty-Fifty Clown is a fairly straightforward track. In fact among the collection of complex and even more complex songs that make up Heaven Or Las Vegas it is possibly the least complicated one. Despite its rapid beat it therefore still provides one of the quieter moments of the album.

The band surprisingly played a very interesting version of this song six years later at a BBC Session.

Heaven Or Las Vegas

The band elected to name their album after this track, and if they felt the title track should represent the sound of the album one can only feel they made an excellent choice, for it is one of the more typical songs of the album.

Heaven Or Las Vegas is pretty much heaven for the lead vocals. Liz is singing majestically and with complete authority. The usual vocal overdubs are sparse - no more than just repeating the song title a few times in the chorus. The lyrics are tantalizingly close to making sense. Several words and fragments can definitely be made out, and the song title clearly occurs a number of times.

Although the vocals are easily the most conspicuous element of the song, they are beautifully balanced against Robin's guitar, which is in great shape here. Its warm sound provides a wonderful background for the vocal parts, and the long drawn-out chords in the few instrumental parts are just great. The interaction between the vocals and the guitar is noteworthy as well. Liz is liberally using syncopes - already beginning her part of the verse or chorus just before the guitar actually starts a new bar. This makes the rather quietly paced track much more playful and much less predictable.

Despite all this creative efforts Heaven Or Las Vegas is still one of the more straightforward songs of the album. It fittingly closes the first half of the album, which could also be called the 'less complicated' half. From here on listening to Heaven Or Las Vegas is like climbing a stairway to ever higher musical complexity.

I Wear Your Ring

One way to look at Heaven Or Las Vegas is to view it as a progression of ever more complex compositions. The last five songs in particular (of which I Wear Your Ring is the first) perfectly illustrate the craft and creativity of the band at what was arguably their finest hour. Indeed, listening to the second half of Heaven Or Las Vegas can leave you wondering how they managed to weave all those different melodies together so beautifully.

As the title quite obviously suggests I Wear Your Ring is a song with many romantic overtones. Although the lyrics taken as a whole are not very understandable many words and fragments are about love and relationship as described in Liz' own unique way. It's the entire mood of the song though, the gentleness, the harmonies, that make I Wear Your Ring such an appealing song. Along with Road, River And Rail it is probably the closest the Twins have ever come to creating a genuine love song.

All through the track keyboards, guitars and percussion are working seamlessly together, but it's the vocal composition that really stands out in this case. The verse contains the first melody. The chorus then contains two new melodies, but it is almost impossible to hear which one is being sung by which vocal line. They appear to sing a duet really, taking over each others melodies and complementing each other whenever necessary. To complicate things further the second verse features additional background contributions. Oh, and by the way, the verse parts are clearly mixed in with yet another vocal overdub, and so at the transition of verse into chorus and the other way round we are treated to three vocals at the same time.

To put the icing on the cake the final vocal part contains yet another different melody, but in the repeats there is the unexpected return of one of the chorus melodies in the background. It is a worthy finale to what is not only a wonderful romantic song but also a monumental effort in using vocal overdub to its limits.


The promising fade-in at the introduction in a way symbolizes this song, for Fotzepolitic is as magnificent a duel between vocals and guitars as the band ever recorded. Or maybe even as any band ever recorded.

The first half of this song is very dynamic: strong vocals, swirling guitars, haunting rhythms and a great sound. The guitars are waltzing around Liz' vocal parts, being played slightly louder inbetween her lines. The lyrics are just about comprehensible, and phrases like they're young girl's dreams add touches of hope and romance.

But things get even better. The volume goes up, the guitar finds an even stronger chord, there's a mock choir and Liz comes up with a very witty line:

See and saw bounce me back to you
She repeats this intrinsically repetitive line a number of times achieving a wonderfully hypnotic effect. When she eventually makes way we hear bruising instrumental finale and the last part is indeed all guitars. A fantastic solo follows and the song is concluded with a final chord sounding like the reverse of the initial fade-in. Which gives the song a fitting element of symmetry.

One element of the spell woven by Fotzepolitic is how complete the track sounds. As it ends you feel that everything necessary has been said and done. It leaves the listener with a great feeling of a satisfactory conclusion. In other words, it must be one of the most compact songs ever written by the band - you couldn't leave out a single second, phrase or chord without making it incomplete. And you couldn't add any element without adversely affecting the track's wonderful unity either.

Fotzepolitic, in short, has everything. It's the ultimate finished song, shining with perfection - rocking from start to finish without getting really loud - extremely energetic despite featuring a slow beat. It's the Cocteau Twins at their best. It's pure magic.

Wolf In The Breast

Virtually every track on Heaven Or Las Vegas is a tour de force of some sort, and Wolf In The Breast is no exception. The song does not yield its treasures easily though, so a bit of attentive listening is required to find out all about its many richnesses.

Followers of the Cocteau Twins are well aware the band often use vocal mixing. Frequently we hear Liz sing chorus and background simultaneously, for instance. And up to the halfway point that is exactly what is happening in Wolf In The Breast as well. But things get a lot more complicated after that, because in the second half we find there are not just two but three vocal lines at the same time! One vocal line repeats the line My baby's cries over and over, two others offer the main lyrics in both foreground and background. For good measure all but the main vocal use a bit of stereo effect as well.

It may be not too hard to perform this trick technically, it's quite another to work it into such marvellous harmony as is done here. Where quite a few bands can hardly manage two different vocals with two singers Liz manages to cope with three different ones on her own. It's an amazing achievement.

Just like elsewhere on the album the band have added lots of pretty details. Listen to the lovely soft wails of Robin's guitar and how it often switches channels on your stereo. There's a tambourine in there somewhere as well and as the song progresses ever more sounds are found melting together into the finale of this absolutely marvellous song.

Road, River And Rail

Even among such a brilliant collection of songs as assembled on this album Road, River And Rail stands out as a gem of unreal quality. We are treated to a beautiful ballad, sung with warmth and feeling, accompanied by a deceptively simple yet marvellous arrangement. The atmosphere created is one of daydreams, romance and happiness.

The lyrics contain several references to Paris. The city itself is mentioned quite clearly, and near the beginning Liz sings about the Isle de la Cité, the island located in the river Seine in Paris. In the final chorus one can also hear phrases like truth is she found love. Possibly then, the song describes a love affair in the French capital. What is for sure is that the song certainly encourages us to lose ourselves in thoughts and to conjure up images of romantic encounters.

From a musical point of view the song is a wonderful symphony of many effects and a masterpiece of arrangement. Somehow the Twins managed to find a way to mix all contributions together without allowing any instrument to dominate at any point. This is all the more striking since so many different instruments are being used to create this particularly romantic atmosphere. Yet all of them work seamlessly together to melt into perfect harmony.

From the very first note the rhythm section provides a steady background. The twelve notes in three time, played over and over again with subtle variations, are so striking they make any fragment of the song instantly recognizable. Simon's bass produces lots of creative contributions, and gets a leading role during the short musical interludes. All through the song the percussion remains very light, yet succeeds in creating many subtle rhythm changes, which provide an extra element of surprise and variation.

Robin's guitar also stays modestly in the background, quietly playing some drawn out chords which add touches of melancholy and dreaminess. Finally Liz' vocals are as rich and beautiful as they can possibly be. In contrast to many other Cocteau songs there is no vocal overdub, and hardly any echo, which means she accomplishes all the vocal creativity quite on her own without any technical assistance. With a very composed singing style Liz succeeds in sounding serene, kind, or even naive and unassuming. Yet using lots of syncopes, her voice towards the end slightly breaking to add an extra bit of emotion, she makes you wish to stay forever in this song's beautiful reverie.

Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires

Few would argue the opinion that Heaven Or Las Vegas is one of the Cocteau's best albums. And given that the band usually save something extra for the last song of an album the final track was always bound to be special. With Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires we are treated to one of the strangest titles of their career, but also to one of their most creative efforts.

From the very first bars there isn't the slightest doubt that something great is about to happen. A classical piano theme that gets better every time you hear it is wonderfully mixed with a wonderfully wailing guitar. Liz quickly joins in with a beautiful vocal line. Already the tension is mounting, and it is evident that something much more powerful is bound to happen.

Soon after the real fireworks begin. There are mighty guitar and bass lines, Liz vocals are at full stretch and thanks to the overdub she is doing two vocal lines at the same time. The themes of the first part return in a much livelier fashion and everything comes together in a second louder part once more.

As usual in the more complex Cocteau's songs it takes many attempts to find out exactly what is going on. The band did not hold back on echo or overdub in this case, but even so this composition features no less then six different vocal lines! It takes a truly incredible performance by Liz to weave them all together so naturally.

Many other subtleties can be heard. For instance the faint percussion in the first part, replaced by much firmer beats in the second part. Robin's superbly wailing guitar in the second quiet part, followed up by some great bass chords by Simon.

At over 5½ minutes Frou-Frou Foxes is one of the band's longer tracks. But on listening to this fantastic song this may well seem like no time at all.