Review Summary: My Bloody Valentine, despite the name, are a light poppish group. The only issue is they drowned out their poppish sound with distortion and fuzz, sacrificing commercial success for a superb album.
Money is such a powerful thing nowadays. With enough of it, you can do anything. As the legend goes, Kevin Shields, guitarist/vocalist of My Bloody Valentine, understood this, and his notorious OCD brought costs of making My Bloody Valentine's greatest piece, Loveless
, to $500,000. Granted, the company who financed My Bloody Valentine's un-radio-friendly album probably weren't thrilled when all the production money bankrupted them and the CD wasn't a top seller. But all that money helped create a dizzying swirl of an album, one that would come to define the genre questionably titled "Shoegaze". By 1991, My Bloody Valentine was a fairly established band. Citing Jesus and the Mary Chain and Sonic Youth as influences, the band had released a few EP's, albums, and other musical goodies while crafting their own distinctive sound; catchy hooks and pop melodies drowned under layers and layers of static, fuzz, and various other bleeps and bloops. Their sophomore (and final) album Loveless
took that formula and added even more masses of experimentation and noise. The result was twistedly classic, and Loveless
became a cult favorite.
Unfortunately, that tag of "cult favorite" means one thing: no one bought it. As with most cult favorites, Loveless
isn't something the mainstream masses can eat up. Loveless
isn't the average album churned out by most alternative staples in the late 80's and early 90's. Despite the massive amounts of production put into it, Loveless
isn't necessarily "tight sounding" or overly harmonized, but merely more out there and incredible than it would have been otherwise. Kevin Shields played with toys everywhere, spending hours and hours in the studio experimenting with feedback, samplings, backwards tapes, and various others resulting in a beautiful sound of noise that incredibly mixes well with My Bloody Valentine's relaxing softer rock and Blinda Butcher's sweetly saint-like vocal quality. Early album tune "Loomer" plays a pulsating distorted guitar that sounds more grunge than green, but green is how Butcher sounds when she sighs with a child-like girlish tone "Tiptoe down to the holy places. Where you going now? Dont turn around. Little girls in their party dresses didnt like anything there"
. Sandwiched between these verses is a shy guitar hook, playing a sad-but-lovely line that would not have seemed out of place on mainstream radio had it not been for the heavy distortion it's played with. "Loomer" sets the tone for the rest of Loveless
; beautiful, mind-bending, and seemingly so simple.
That beautiful quality is what sets apart My Bloody Valentine's Loveless
from most other albums. Throughout the album, My Bloody Valentine plays hooks and songs loud and soft, maintaining the fuzzy production throughout, making Loveless
very consistent for being so out there. Oftentimes on Loveless
, the vocals are mixed low, to the point where words can not be made out, usually just stray vowels and syllables. This results in the emphasizing of the usually hypnotic guitar lines Shields and Butcher play or the driving keyboard hooks littered throughout the album. "To Here Knows When" sets itself up simply enough; a complicated (and monstrously catchy) keyboard hook starts the song with occasional crescendos of the constant guitar feedback under Butcher's mumbling hums of "Turn your head. Come back again to here knows when"
. "To Here Knows When" goes on like this for a striking five and a half minutes, but oddly, it doesn't get tiring. Listening to the cacophony of sounds and choosing to listen to one of the many melodies in the song is an experience more than a chore. "What You Want" plays similarly, but instead of being laid back like "To Here Knows When", it pushes like a Smiths hit, and the octave chords sung by Butcher and Shields are surprisingly sad, particularly when matched with "What You Want"'s lovely keyboard hook. Despite again going for an intimidating five and a half minutes, "What You Want" seems complete without seeming stretched. Even the minute long sound mash-up of "What You Want"'s many hooks during the final minute of the song seem so in place. That's why Loveless
is known still today. It's meant to be perfect in every way.
It nearly succeeds, too. There's rarely a moment on Loveless
that seems out of place or not in touch with the rest of the epic that Kevin Shields hoped to create. Every second is thought out, with nothing being forgotten. Even the drums, which Shields desired to be simple, seem mechanically thought through, down to every fill. Some of the drumming was even done by a machine, as the rift between Shields and drummer Colm O'Closoig grew to the point of the two falling out soon after Loveless
' completion. The result is tight, even simple drumming in all tracks, a mark of the smooth sound Shields wanted on the album. Closoig's lone piece on the album, the noise instrumental "Touched" is forgettable, creating the sole weak track Loveless
contains. It only lasts for one minute though, and it's followed by the aforementioned "To Here Knows When", and the album gets back on track directly after that.
One of the great things about Loveless
is that it maintains it's beautiful quality whether it play loud or soft. The insistent opening stomp of "Only Shallow" is grander than most anything put out by My Bloody Valentine's peers in the early 90's, and it's placed oddly but fittingly between another soft and naive sounding verse. The writing style of Butcher and Shields shines here and throughout the album, placing some of their greatest words on life and love in the louder pieces, while insisting on making them even less heard than on the softer tracks like "Loomer" and "Sometimes". For example, on the dreamily marvelous "Blown A Wish", Butcher and Shields write out some of their darkest words, particularly for their normal style of writing as comfortable children discovering the world. Butcher hums the songs main hook with some seventies-tinged "Oooo-Wah's", but placed between the strikingly catchy vocal hook are sing-song rhymes like "Midnight wish blow me a kiss, I'll blow one to you. Make like this; Try to pretend it's true"
. On the album finale, and arguably Loveless
' strongest track "Soon", that effect is worked again, only this time with a hypnotizing dance beat and a syncopated keyboard hook driving home the point. Butcher attacks this one with two word zingers ("Wake up, don't fear. I want to love you, yeah (doll of pain)"
), and gently humming another hook with a surprisingly sexual purr. The epic track beats on for a relentless seven minutes and doesn't let up for a moment. It's the fitting end to such a relentlessly beautiful album.
As "Soon" rolls towards its conclusion, one feels as though they've just listened to something remarkable, and yet they are unsure why. Sitting and listening to all of Loveless
straight through is a disorienting experience, particularly with the lights off. I can only imagine what effects illegal drugs can have on the album. In retrospect, one has to recognize the genius of Kevin Shields. All the money he used was spent to make something incredible, and that's exactly what he got. His relentless tinkering and experimenting made one of the most beautiful noise albums of the era, and certainly became to Shoegaze what "Nevermind" was to grunge. It became the definition of the genre. On the album's softest and most heart-wrenching track, "Sometimes", Shields gets a rare solo spot behind the microphone, and under a wave of distortion and fuzz, he strums an acoustic guitar and sings in a soft tone, reminiscent of Billy Corgan, "Close my eyes, Feel the high. I don't know. But you could not love me now"
and later defining all of Loveless
with one simple rhyme: "Turn my head into sound. I don't know. But I lay down on the ground."
To Here Knows When
Blown a Wish
What You Want