21 years after their magnum opus ‘Loveless’ turned listeners’ brains upside down and assaulted their ears with a wall of shimmering noise, My Bloody Valentine’s singer/guitarist/producer/musical genius Kevin Shields has revealed that the band are to release a follow up album before the end of this year, as well as a new EP. This is huge news for fans of the band, who have been waiting patiently for new material ever since their reunion in 2007. To fully understand the rabid excitement for the return of the Valentines, it’s essential to have heard Loveless and know the stories about its tortured production. So here is the story of the album that redefined alternative music and nearly destroyed the band that made it…
Loveless has reached near mythical status since its release in 1991, with so many rumours about its production that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. It’s said to have nearly bankrupted Creation Records, eventually costing the label a quarter of a million pounds. Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig was homeless during recording, so the album’s drum tracks had to be pieced together from samples of patterns he was fit to play. Production was shut down for several weeks while Shields and vocalist Bilinda Butcher recovered from tinnitus as a result of their deafeningly loud live shows. Numerous engineers were hired and fired because they couldn’t keep up with Shields’ perfectionism. In fact, his single-minded vision for the album’s sound led to him playing every guitar and bass part himself, believing it was impossible to explain to the other musicians what he wanted. But despite the months of insanity that might have made a lesser band collapse, the Valentines came out on top and released one of the greatest alternative albums of all time.
From the very first track, ‘Only Shallow’, listeners get the idea of where this album is going to take them. It opens with four snare drum hits before blasting out that inimitable guitar sound that Shields perfected. He pioneered the technique of constantly manipulating his guitar’s tremolo arm while playing oddly-shaped chords at maximum volume. This led to the wavering, ever-so-slightly out-of-tune wall of noise known as ‘glide guitar’ that characterises all of My Bloody Valentine’s songs. The vocals are soft, breathy and high-pitched, the lyrics barely discernable against the ringing guitar sound. Despite the fact that you have to strain your ears to comprehend the dreamy haze of Butcher and Shields’ voices, the pair worked hard to make sure the lyrics weren’t sloppy. It’s a stunning track that may take a while to fully sink in, but it’s a rewarding experience once you’re used to the Valentines’ unusual style.
The album carries on in much the same fashion, going through the chirpy indie-pop sound of ‘When You Sleep’, with its flute-like noises that were probably all made by Shields’ guitar and manipulated to the point of being unrecognisable, to the ethereal ‘Sometimes’, which contrasts loving, sweet lyrics and a gentle tempo with a groaning, heavily distorted pileup of guitar chords. While every track has a similar sound, all of them have something that makes them stand out from the rest, making the whole album dynamic and exciting despite the mostly chilled-out style.
The album’s closing track ‘Soon’ is the most out-there of the lot. A complete departure from the band’s usual style, it places the glide guitar and floaty lyrics over a funky Madchester beat. Pulsing along for 7 minutes, it’s a fun ending to an otherwise more serious album, yet somehow manages to fit in perfectly.
Despite massive critical praise, with the NME even comparing the band to gods, the album never became the smash hit it deserved to be, peaking at number 24 in the UK and failing to chart at all in the US. My Bloody Valentine continued to play blisteringly loud shows for the next few years before fizzling out and bringing the entire shoegaze genre down with them, with Shields going into a Brian Wilson-esque period of isolation. All was quiet from the group until five years ago, when they reunited to deafen music festivals across the globe, as well as re-releasing their two albums and a collection of EPs. Rumours ran wild about a Loveless follow up being in the works, but nothing was confirmed until a few days ago when Shields revealed his plans to release the album through his own website, a la Radiohead.
Any fan of alternative music will understand the excitement for new Valentines songs, but those who have never heard the band may be wondering what all the fuss is about. To them I say grab the newly remastered CD of Loveless, crank the volume up to the proverbial 11 and enjoy the brilliance of the band that brought shoegaze to the masses before putting a bullet in its head.
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