The never ending stream of album anniversaries is strange for many reasons, but it gets really weird when you’re celebrating quarter-century marks for albums you identify with as an adult.
Heaven or Las Vegas is the album that, for me, marks my transition into adulthood … even though I wasn’t really an adult when it came out.
I was starting my second year of college, and had just turned 19, which is, really, advanced adolescence, rather than actual adulthood. But for me, this was the year that the whole rest of my life started to come into focus; I was writing professionally (as in , getting paid for it, though not much!), I was paying my own rent, I was free to do whatever I wanted … and that mainly involved driving around and listening to music. And the tape that never seemed to leave the deck in my shitty little VW Fox was a Capitol Records promo of “Heaven or Las Vegas.”
It’s weird to consider this a driving-around record; Cocteau Twins are best for pensive clove-smoking sessions or hallucinogen come downs, right? Maybe. But they never were for me. The thing that always drew me to the band was their sheer voluminousness, their willingness to fill – even on their quietest, prettiest tracks – every centimeter of space with sound. It’s a trait they share with lots of my other favorite artists; whether Sun Ra or Prince or the Flaming Lips, the artists I’m drawn to tend to fill in their musical pictures with more and more and more sound, rather than truly thoughtful lyrics or musical precision. And Cocteau Twins were a band that cared little for either lyrics or precision.
But, as this album made clear, that didn’t mean they didn’t care about emotion or melody or the cumulative impact of combining their strengths in different ways. It was the most direct and song-driven of the group’s work to that point, and Heaven or Las Vegas continually confounded me with the way it laid bare its emotions – joy, confusion, hope – without using easy-to-understand lyrics.
To be completely honest: I sang along to this record more than any pop or rock record with anthemic choruses, and even 25 years later, I have no idea what any of the words are.
I could try and draw corollaries between the whole new-baby/strained-relationship reality of the Twins’ principals and my own confused reactions to the freedoms and responsibilities of young adulthood, but they would be dishonest. I just felt that, at the time, this was the best pop album on the planet, and, 25 years later, I think it is still a pretty prime contender for the title. Which is why that promo cassette never got ejected (thank god for auto-reverse!).