My Bloody Valentine Loveless

[Sire/Creation; 1991]

Styles: noise rock, indie rock, alternative rock, shoegazing
Others: Pixies, Sonic Youth, Slowdive

Before Loveless was released in 1991, seemingly every other noise-fixated band in Britain had tried adopting the Valentines’ blueprint of bending feedback, giddy guitars and blissed-out vocals, attempting to second guess where Shields and co. would take their sound next. The pressure was on as expectations rose among fans, critics and, probably most of all, their record company Creation, who were almost bankrupted by the recording process. When the album was finally unleashed, however, all expectations were blown out of the water. NOTHING could have prepared people for this — the most innovative, unusual and inimitable record to be released by a rock group for decades, a progression so far ahead of the pack that many groups around today are still playing catch-up.

It’s hard to write about Loveless track-by-track because it’s not one of those albums that has specific highlights or fillers — it’s meant to be consumed whole. The tracks on here are less like songs and more like mini slices of atmosphere condensed onto disk. The record is less like an album, and more like a canvas, with the songs splashed across it to create something abstract, but beautiful. The closest thing to “straight forward” rock songs on here are opener “Only Shallow” and track 5, “When You Sleep”, where the traditionally blistering wall of sound is decorated with luscious guitar melodies.

Perhaps the album’s defining feature is the warm, sensuous feel that permeates it’s songs. One of the terms that often pops up when people try to describe MBV’s sound is “sleep”, or to be more specific, that “half-awake” feel that emanates from the record, especially the vocals, which are recorded so low that the lyrics are almost indiscernible.

What’s so brilliant about this record is the way it manages to sound both ethereal and aggressive, dreamy yet at times howlingly noisy. There lies the crux of this record for me. There’s something about Loveless that both attracts and repels me. I’m compelled to listen, but at times it grates with me. Ever since I first bought it, I’ve been trying to get my head round it, and I’m still trying. It doesn’t make for easy listening, but then again it does.

Once you’ve become used to the disorientating feel of the record, you begin to appreciate how much of a calming listen it can be. Like the gorgeous, trippy “Soon” with it’s distorted guitars and catchy keyboard riff riding an acid house drum beat. Or the instrumental “Touched”, which sounds like a drunken orchestra playing on a badly tuned radio. It’s the type of music that leaves you wondering “What instrument is making that noise? How the hell have they created this music”, because this album is unlike anything you will ever hear in your life.

It’s weird, but beautiful, and takes you on a musical journey distinct from any other band. With Isn’t Anything, MBV gave birth to a whole load of imitators; with Loveless, they upped the ante so high that no one before or since sounds anything like it. A flow of distorted guitar whirlpools and ambient effects, tape loops and samples, Loveless has one foot in a past of experimental guitar bands (J&MC, Sonic Youth), and one foot firmly in a future of computer enhanced music. All in all, this record amounts to nothing less than a virtual reinvention of the guitar.