Monday, June 22, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 39)

39. "Heaven or Las Vegas"
Artist: Cocteau Twins
Year: 1990

It's not often a successful indie actually gets better following major-league attention, but I think Cocteau Twins' best work was after being signed by Capitol Records for distribution in America. I'll give you die-hard followers a moment to curse my name... I took to Robin Guthrie's ethereal guitar and, especially, Elizabeth Fraser's dreamy vocals fairly early on, but I only seemed to like them in small doses. They weren't like anyone else in my collection, which I found intriguing but challenging to my pop sensibilities. It felt as if the band's sound became a tick more accessible around the time of 'Blue Bell Knoll' in 1988 and even more so with 'Heaven or Las Vegas' in 1990, and that's when I really became a fan. Not very fashionable, but it's the truth.

My other candidates for this spot were the singles "Carolyn's Fingers" and "Iceblink Luck." It's interesting to study the band's chart successes. All three of the songs mentioned here cracked the top 10 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks list, but these would be the only appearances for Cocteau Twins on this side of the pond. After years of successive No. 1 hits on the UK indie chart, we Americans took to them just as interest in the UK seemed to cool. When it comes to great bands, we are often late to the party over here (or miss the soiree completely), but this is the rare occurrence when I think we favored a group at just the right time. OK, I'm ready. Let me have it.


Echorich said...

Simply gorgeous and everything that you knew Cocteau Twins would someday be capable of from the first moment you heard them. I think we may both be on the same wavelength here Brian. I was waiting to see if this or something from this period of CT would make the cut.
CT was a band I always admired, but were never really essential. In fact it's their work with Harold Budd on The Moon and The Melodies that finally grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.
I remember, vividly standing around the ground floor of Danceteria in 84 until 2:30 in the morning for CT to come on and then they sounded like someone had filled the speakers with treacle and friends and I walked out after the third song. This definitely colored my opinion of them for a while, but that collaboration with Harold Budd just blew me away.
Blue Bell Knoll was almost experimental for CT - in the sense that they were working within a more conventional pop structure. By Heaven Or Las Vegas, they were riding on a slipstream of beauty and confidence that's reflected throughout the entire album, but most assuredly on the title track. The mix and the production are an ethereal textured wall of sound that almost breaks your heart with its beauty.
I think this one would likely reach my Top 20 90's tracks if I put my mind to compiling my own list.

TheRobster said...

Agreed - this is probably their best period. If the purists take you down, they can take me with you! My choice track would probably be Frou Frou Foxes though. Absolutely divine.

Scott said...

Surprised that they had no chart success in The States before this period in their career. Much as I love Heaven Or Las Vegas I can't see past Treasure. That was my initial introduction to them and has remained my fave throughout the years. I could listen to Elizabeth Fraser's voice all night, such a stunning vocalist.

The Swede said...

Good call. One i'd forgotten.

Brian said...

Echorich, I think we are on the same wavelength. This idea of the more conventional pop structure in the late '80s and early '90s is exactly what took me from a sometime listener to a real fan. Your show experience sounds just awful. At least you were able to get past it.

TheRobster, First of all, capital idea with that Super Furry Animals B-sides comp. I only knew the Rings Around the World era songs before you fleshed them out. Wonderful. Thanks for having my back with Cocteau Twins. Your choice of Frou Frou Foxes is inspired.

Scott, I can't argue with you too much about Treasure... especially since it's the consensus favorite of most fans. I'm going to pull that one out tonight. So right on Fraser's voice. One of the most interesting out there. I wondered if she was on your recent list of female vocalists.

Swede, Thank you, sir. Give those later albums another listen when you can.