My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
Despite his name appearing on a clutch of remixes over the years, including Yo La Tengo and Primal Scream, with whom he briefly played live and appeared on remixes as the MBV Arkestra, the rumours that he had recorded two albums and scrapped both, built his own studio and only emerged after sunset gave Kevin Shields an air of cultish mystery. The problem for one who lets such a reputation grow is how ever to return and not reveal oneself to be unclothed of genius, much like the mythical emperor. For Kevin Shields, such was the reputation that surrounded both Loveless and Isn't Anything as well as their formidable live shows in 1991/92, that it would have been perfectly understandable had he never been heard from again.
However, with the recent release of the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, Kevin Shields has recorded and released his first set of original songs since late 1991 when this album first appeared. The songs are still not credited to My Bloody Valentine for, according to those close to him, he believes that little he now records comes close to matching the cracked wonder of Loveless. Time, then, to look back at that album and listen to the swooning melodies, rippling guitars and thrilling arrangements all over again.
The first thing to note about the album is that cover, being a blurry mix of pink printings, photocopies and Fender Jazzmasters, which summarises perfectly the swirling romance and noise of the music within. With much of the text barely readable, not helped by the pink-on-pink colours, all that remains is of that burst of images piled one on top of another. It is only when the album starts that you realise how close that cover was to the opening minutes of Loveless.
Only Shallow, the album's opening track, explains perfectly what course Loveless will take, sweeping a pair of simple chord progressions - verse and chorus - out of the way with a surging, piledriving riff introduced by a martial drumbeat. Buried low in the mix are the vocals, recorded by Shields and his partner, Bilinda Butcher, with words that seldom make it clear of the noise. Never is there the sense, even in this first song, of there being a lack of invention given the remarkable sound of offer. The effect is one of being caught out at sea - the sound is so heavy it threatens, at times, to drag you under, the rhythm ebbs and flows leaving you feeling headspun and, above everything else, sound effects flutter and crash like waves.
Nothing is ever certain on this album and, despite Only Shallow threatening to become lost in the noise, such a thing rarely happens, which is not to say that across the length of album, it never does. Both Loomer and To Here Knows When do give in to the swirl of pretty guitar noise that churns across the album but, even then, the vocals swim through it. At other times, noises that possibly originate on guitar groan and bellow as with what passes for a melody on Touched, the album's only instrumental and on which Shields does not have a songwriting credit. Around the crashing rhythm and synthesiser hums, a guitar cuts through the mix with a sound like whale song.
The variation in songs is what makes Loveless work as well as it does for, despite writing of how Loomer, for example, becomes subsumed by its backing, others, like When You Sleep and What You Want are rich pop songs, both of which are immediately appealing. On When You Sleep, the vocals are almost clear with a line or two being audible over guitars that sweep over the rhythm, tailing each chorus with a synthesiser melody that gives the song a glimmering pop thrill. What You Want, on the other hand, is as straightforward a song as Loveless offers and is the upfront guitar thrash before the complex dance-influenced rock of Soon bursts in.
That last song on the album is likely to be the best recorded by My Bloody Valentine. Following a couple of minutes of keyboards that chime aimlessly, a pair of drum fills introduces the guitars that mark the beginning of Soon, which mixes the roaring guitars from elsewhere on the album with a indie-dance rhythm and a deep, deep bass that's almost funky. With Butcher and Shields pairing on the vocals and harmonising the fills that each close each chorus, Soon mixes a sensual and sexually thrilling whisper with the rush of pleasure-seeking.
Elsewhere on the album, Sometimes beats around the thrum of damped strings on an acoustic guitar and which builds from its simple opening to finish as a glistening and tender love song on which Shields' voice fades as a blissful little keyboard solo builds through the octaves. The only songs yet to be mentioned are I Only Said, which lurches from chorus to verse with a drunken, woozy, lovesick feeling, and Blown A Wish, which is, like Isn't Anything's I Can See It (But I Can't Feel It), gentle to the point of frailty but which also hides its violence behind whispered words.
And yet...and yet there's so much that could be said about this wonderful album but all that matters is that you really just have to hear it to understand how exceptional a record it is. The shame of Loveless is that not only has there never been a follow-up but that so many of those who bought it in late-1991 and early-1992 simply didn't get it. Should you ever require a method of discovering how critical opinion differs from that of the public, then look no further than the racks of second-hand record shops. A week or so after Select, Melody Maker and the NME had declared Loveless to be a five-star, ten-out-of-ten classic, the M-bin in Manchester's second-hand record shops were stuffed full with copies of Loveless. On the odd occasion I was present when a copy was brought in for trade, I so wanted to tell the fool at the desk to get back home, put the disc back on and learn to love the beautifully tender noise at the heart of Loveless. Months later, amid the stories of fans passing out to the jet-engine roar from the Valentines' speakers during their live shows, I attended a number of their concerts and left feeling thrilled at the ear-shredding noise, rhythm and sweet melodies of the music.
Where other bands grunt and sweat, My Bloody Valentine glimmer and have such beautiful songs that one is finally charmed by the churn and hum of guitars and amps that rise and fall throughout Loveless. This is an album of rare power and, like with The Blue Nile's Peace At Last reviewed earlier in the week, it's quite impossible to isolate one moment that could be bettered. With five years spent on creating this album, it's difficult to begrudge Shields a minute of that time when he produces music as wonderful as this. .