28 November 2009

Retrospective on My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless"

I have not forgotten – a few months ago I stated that I had to write about My Blood Valentine, and that has been one of my intentions since I wrote about shoegazing back in January. So to my friends, who continuously reminded me about My Bloody Valentine, stop nagging me – here you go! Thanks for all the support.

Out of Dublin, Ireland, very few bands ever leave such a mark on music as My Bloody Valentine. You can throw around a few labels – dream pop, noise pop, post-punk, shoegazing – but you will find it impossible to really put your finger on this band. And I am fully aware of the fact that when I say “My Bloody Valentine” I am supposed to think “Isn’t Anything” (November 1988). But since when do I ever do what I am supposed to do? “Loveless” (4 November 1991) is one of those albums that continues to haunts me – eighteen years after its release, it still leaves me confused, mystified, lost, and wondering about what exactly I was just listening to. And in terms of musical history, “Loveless” is representative of a new paradigm – and arguably a catalyst for what indie music was about to produce. It is not so much that My Bloody Valentine influenced an entire generation of musicians (from fellow shoegazers to post-punk revival and everything in between), it is the conviction and the way they challenged normal conventions in music that should also be taken into account.

Kevin Shields (guitarist and vocalist) is known to have blatantly said that he (and the band) knew more about the music industry than the label companies did. Now I am not sure this would be true in terms of accounting and all those fancy numbers, but the band definitely had their finger on a pulse that others did not. Their debut, “Isn’t Anything,” may have not been a ground breaking, pop album, but it did point out that the (post-)punk ideology of challenging music was alive and well. Audiences were looking for something new, beyond the new wave, teenybopper pop, and hair metal bands of their day. Along side such bands as the Cranes, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Pixies, the concept of “noise” became more and more important – and not noise as some melodic concept, but noise as in compressed, distorted, out of control sound that somehow carries the song. And this idea was perfected with the 1991 release of “Loveless,” which made waves on mainstream pop charts in the UK and even invaded the American underground.

The recording of the album was an exercise in persistence and torture. The brainchild of Kevin Shields, the album was recorded over several months at several studios. It was a vision that was not well articulated to the rest of the band or producers he worked with, and it proved to be more difficult than he ever imagined. What was tooted as a one-week recording experience turned out to be well over a year, but the final product would forever blow the door open to future artists. Already, “underground” bands were breaking through and playing in stadiums on both sides of the Atlantic (The Cure and Depeche Mode), and though My Bloody Valentine would not reach those size audiences, they would turn quite a few heads and inspire many young inspiring artists.

Opening with the magnum opus “Only Shallow,” the compressed guitars arrest your ears, while the near incomprehensible, ethereal vocals create an interesting counterbalance to the noise. Taking a cue from post-punk rockers and their use of stream of consciousness, the lyrics are almost as fractured as the music: “Speak, she’s not scared, soft like there’s silk everywhere.” Then “Loomer” comes in, with much of the same construction as “Only Shallow,” just at a slightly slower pace. But it is that slower pace that gives it a sense of eeriness that the opening does not have. But “Touched,” the third track, will basically stop you in your tracks. An instrumental of about a minute in length, it is a bit eerie, but more melodic than what has come before it and is the perfect set up for the following track, “To Here Knows When.” This track feels more epic than it length (five and a half minutes), but captured in it is a small narrative: “Kiss your fear, your read button falls from my mouth. Slip your dress over your head; it’s been so long. Move on top, because that way you touch her too, turn you heard, come back again, to here knows when.” Compressed guitars, distorted keys, an ostinato much like synthpop, the song is anything but your average ballet.

The album then slips into more of a “consumable” format over the next few tracks: “When You Sleep,” “I Only Said,” “Come In Alone,” “Sometimes” (stripped down track basically sung to a distorted guitar), and “Blown a Wish.” “Blown a Wish” is one of my favorite tracks of all time. This is the one track that My Bloody Valentine just throws everything into the mix that is expected of them: compressed guitars, distorted sounds, ostinato, ethereal vocals, and minimalist lyrics (“Midnight wish, blow be a kiss, I’ll blow one to you, make like this – try to pretend it’s true”). Though the album never returns to the arresting sound of the first two tracks, but following “Blown a Wish,” when you are floating on a cloud, you are smashed right back down. “What You Want” is the closet on the album to a standard indie rock song out there. But it is the epic finish, “Soon,” that will probably stay in your memory the longest. I have always felt that this was included to throw off everyone from thinking they knew what My Bloody Valentine was about. This song is as close to dance ready as any “rock” band can come to. It defies what you have been led to expect from your listening experience thus far, but yet every trick they have ever used (like in “Blown a Wish”) is here, only it all sounds happy-go-lucky. Even the lyrics sound apropos: “Wake up, don’t fear, I want to love you. Yeah, don’t go there, I let you get to me. Yeah, yeah, come back, don’t be afraid of me. Soon.” But then you get to the second stanza: “Your eyes are blue, blue jewels. Yeah, yeah come back, have faith someone like you can find the reason of what I did to you.” And I am not sure if I am supposed to be disturbed or touched because we are never told what he did to her. Eerie and cryptic, but regardless amazing storytelling, this album’s lyrics challenge typical points of views and themes.

When touring to this album, their one goal was to challenge how much noise an audience could listen to. Trust me, it took some time to get use to when you heard the “noise” live! But ultimately, by the 90s, when numbers were quickly becoming more and more important than nurturing talent, My Bloody Valentine were dropped from Creation Records when the numbers were not what was hoped for. With less than frequent output after 1991 (really none), by 1997 My Bloody Valentine disbanded. And though rumors ran amuck for years about a new album, the first glimmers of real hope did not come till 2007, when Kevin Shields announced that the band (vocalist/guitarist Bilinda Butcher, bassist Debbie Googe, and drummer Colm O. Ciosoig) were to reunite. In 2008, the band played their first live show in thirteen years, and would go on to play Roskilde Festival (Denmark), Benicassim (Spain), Fuji Rock (Japan), Oyafestivalen (Norway), and Electric Picinic (Ireland). Though a new album has always been rumored (Shields did say they were near completing an album in 2007), to date there has been no album. But the hope is always there that My Bloody Valentine is brewing something that is going to blow audiences away again.

Track listing:
1. Only Shallow
2. Loomer
3. Touched
4. To Here Knows When
5. When You Sleep
6. I Only Said
7. Come In Alone
8. Sometimes
9. Blown a Wish
10. What You Want
11. Soon

Keep up with My Bloody Valentine at their homepage and MySpace.

Here are their videos for “Only Shallow” and “Soon” (single version) from their MySpace Videos Page.

Only Shallow

My Bloody Valentine | MySpace Music Videos


My Bloody Valentine | MySpace Music Videos

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