The first thing I did when preparing this review was to break out my original 1990 CD of Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins and give it a spin with fresh ears. I honestly had not listened to this album in at least 10 years, if not more, so a refresher was in order.
Putting my heart on the table, I admit this was never my favorite Cocteau Twins album (that honor is reserved for Treasure). However, I know that for many a Cocteau Twins fan, Heaven or Las Vegas is the popular peak. It was their final for the 4AD label (their record company home in England) and it reached number seven in the UK, their highest charting release.
Listening to Heaven or Las Vegas anew, I'm enjoying it very much -- more so than when it came out. Cocteau Twins are one of those groups with a 100-percent distinctive sound so the songs tend to blur and blend in with one another. That said, playing Heaven or Las Vegas again after all these years, I smiled when "Iceblink Luck" came on, like a familiar friend you hadn't heard from in ages. That song was one of the hits from the record.
While lost in a blissed out smile daze as the song bubbled along, I was reminded of the silly fun I used to have when trying to describe their sound to friends unfamiliar with the Cocteau's music -- I used to describe their sound as backwards peak-period Fleetwood Mac run through an Abba blender, produced by Brian Eno.
It is more than that, of course, but it does paint a picture for the uninitiated, especially on songs like the title track with its double tracked harmony vocal lines.
Anyhow.... the CD sounds pretty good for a 1990 release, with surprising warmth for what is probably by then an all digital release (I am guessing here, folks).
Switching over to the recently reissued LP -- which I picked up from PopMarket.com for just $12! -- I am really very pleased with the sound. Its more than reissued really because this is the first time the album has been made available in the United States on vinyl. Like the LP issue/reissue of Blue Bell Knoll (which I reviewed last year), there is much more presence to the music here.
Like that other reissue, this new 180-gram LP bears a sticker that says it was "Remastered from HD Audio" which I assume means that they went back to whatever the original source the master recording was made in/on (analog or digital tape, digital workstation, computer, etc.). According to the band's page on the 4AD website (and on the PopMarket site) the band made a new 96 kHz, 24-bit transfer which is the basis for this LP issue.
And its a nice release!
One of the great things about hearing this album in high resolution now is that I can now crank up the music fairly loudly and it doesn't become a super harsh, nasty listen. In fact, it takes on a fairly nice warmth as I push my little Bellari tube pre-amp a bit on this one. Simon Raymonde's bass lines pop out of the mix in a percolating sort of way while Elizabeth Fraser's voice reaches for the stratosphere. Not sure who is playing the drums on this -- none listed on the credits, but it sounds like a live drummer, although they could be sequenced -- but, whatever / whomever, the drums sound very nice on this too.
I'm really happy here. As I said in my other review, Cocteau Twins make a lot of sense on vinyl. Clocking in at a sprite 37 minutes total, listening on vinyl -- complete with getting up out of your seat to flip the record -- makes the listening experience stretch out somehow. The dead-quiet vinyl pressings are excellent, thick, dark black and well centered.
The album comes with a download for MP3s to take with you on the go. And here, Dear Readers, is the neato bonus: when you go to download said MP3s, you will actually get the 24-bit, 96 kHz download! I was very pleased to learn of this from another Cocteau Twins fan via the Internet. Sure enough, I got the downloads in high resolution and it sounds fabulous, playing directly out via iTunes through my audioengineD1 DAC into my Denon amp.
So, clearly, the vinyl route is the way to go because you also get Heaven or Las Vegas as a 96 kHz, 24-bit high resolution download! Of course if you don't have a turntable and don't want to mess with the CDs anymore, you can buy the high res download via HDTracks.com or from the 4AD website store.
Either way you prefer to listen -- LP or HD download -- hearing Cocteau Twins in higher resolution than the old 1990 CD is a heartwarming experience.
Now, I really hope they will remaster Treasure in high resolution soon!