Review Summary: It’s not a comeback, a reinvention, or an earth-shattering reboot – it’s just been delayed.
My Bloody Valentine’s third album is really one that got away. Although Loveless took two years to record, and bankrupted their label Creation Records, it stands to this day as iconic and unforgettable. Now, after just over two decades of silence, the group are back with their long-anticipated mbv. It was, in fact, so well anticipated, that the site crashed the moment it the stream and downloads became available – was it worth the wait?
As the opening track, ‘she found now’ emerges slowly and nostalgically with waves of disrtion and hazy, dreamy vocals, it’s like nothing has changed. There is no grand statement of intent, no radical new direction, it sounds as if My Bloody Valentine are simply picking up where they left off, albeit a little late. It’s anything but a big opening, warm and soothing. This lack of pomp and ceremony is something that’s truly intriguing about the album – all the song titles are written with lower case letters, there was essentially no launch campaign, even the name of the album is about as low-key as you can get. The group make it clear that they’re not coming back to the titles and praise that they’ve seemed to have earned in their absence, but rather to just make some more music.
Overall, the album is structured in an interesting way; it builds over the first few tracks with drone-based fuzz, which grow in intensity as it passes through ‘only tomorrow; and ‘who sees you’, melding together in a very comforting way, before breaking the stride with ‘is this and yes’. The track is stripped down to Hammond-organ-esque keyboards and female vocals, adding a moment of reprieve and clarity to contrast the waves of guitars. It feels like watching something grow, and while many bands would have treated is a functional filler track, its given its own space to develop on its own – the moment you realise the vocals have started doubling around halfway through is wonderful.
However, rather than return to the safe area of more slow-beat drone tracks, the second section of the album builds again, but in a different way. The drums become more prominent, adding a real shuffle and drive to tracks like ‘new you’ (which even has a couple of drum fills), a downplayed drum’n’bass-style beat in ‘in another way’, and cranked up again into ‘nothing is’. The rhythmic nature of the tremolo or wah effects on the guitars against the drums is used very effectively, in particular in ‘if i am’ and ‘new you’, in order to create some really interesting devices that just wash over the listener. As with all MBV tracks, you have to really listen in order to dig into it and hear the stuff in the background – because, well, it’s sort of all background, it’s all distance – but it’s equally pleasing to let it just drag over you in all its psychedelic gooiness.
In this second section, the album does take a more refreshing turn with regards to the band’s sound. The vocals feel more prominent, and while they’re begging for more doubling and harmony, it works, and the songs feel much more like… well, songs. The structure is more obvious, and there’s a positive bass groove driving ‘new you’, and while there are some ways it could be mixed to emphasise this – the drums higher, more treble in general - MBV don’t take the easy way and the music remains positively their own. The prime example of this is the last track, ‘wonder 2’ – while it edges towards pop music (albeit a strange form), and less like the lovely mush which started the album, it develops, textures swimming ein between the guitars and the drums driving it constantly upwards, before spiralling down in a solo section at the end. While one could argue that this album (or at least half of it) has made their sound more accessible, it’s definitely still the same band.
The end of the album points out one of the more flaws, however. ‘nothing is’, the penultimate track, combines the more driven, clearer second section with the noisy, distorted first into a driving drumbeat and noise riff, for X minutes, without vocals or much change. It was this track that really got me thinking about the difference between development and repetition on the album, and while the latter has always been MBV’s mo, on this album, and on this track in particular, it becomes a little frustrating. ‘nothing is’ deserves a crescendo, a slow increase in noise, a growing bass, just… something. It builds tension and there’s no relief, which, on repeated listening through the album, is something of a subtle flaw. While it doesn’t really impact the music obviously in other places, songs often seem to drift on for the sake of repetition and prolonging the textures, which is fine, but it feels a little like the group have gone so far away from the not-making-a-big-deal of this album, that they’re sticking rigidly to their guns.
The album sounds nostalgic, because it should have been written twenty years ago. Of course, it’s a great thing that MBV are back making music again, but clearly they haven’t spent their time working towards this album – they could have made it at any point over their absence, which makes it feel a little… out-dated. It’s great music, and while most reviews are quite happy in establishing that the group still sounds the same, they’re still making the same great music, I would advise coming to this album without any high expectations. It’s not a comeback, a reinvention, or an earth-shattering reboot – it’s just been delayed.