Review Summary: Your Bloody Valentine…at last.
My Bloody Valentine’s third record arrived on our doorsteps last weekend with a serious air of the boy who cried wolf lingering all over it. And you don’t have to remember each of the false dawns scattered across the entirety of this twenty-two year fable to appreciate that reference either. Only last November did vocalist and lead guitarist Kevin Shields confidently declare to NME that, “a new My Bloody Valentine record will be coming out this year”. Looking back, I don’t think very many genuinely believed him then, even if his second pet project – that other mythical beast also known as the remasters of the band’s Creation catalog – had surfaced relatively on schedule just a few months earlier. But when the New Year rolled around and still no one apart from the band members themselves had a copy of a new My Bloody Valentine recording in their living room, there was a very nasty, hubris-laden air of familiarity about it all. It became impossible to decide which hypothesis was less accurate: that Kevin Shields was a self-absorbed egomaniac, or that he was simply the worst businessman the world had ever seen. I wager that even Shields himself must have wondered – would there be anyone left to take him seriously by the time all this was over?
It didn’t seem like it would be so difficult some twenty-odd years ago. After the 1991 release of the now-seminal Loveless
, My Bloody Valentine parted ways with Creation Records and signed a lucrative £250,000 deal with Island in October of 1992. Some of this advance money went towards the construction of a home studio in South London, which the Irish outfit eventually planned to use as headquarters for the writing and recording of their third studio release. At least, that was the general idea, before a lack of inspiration and several technical problems with the studio sent the band into complete disarray. But rumour had it that before Shields and co. collapsed, albums worth of publishable material had actually been recorded and delivered to their label. Later, the singer-songwriter would himself confirm that at least one full album of "half-finished" material was abandoned. "[It] just [got] dumped, but it was worth dumping,” he explained. “It was dead. It hadn't got that spirit, that life in it." For over two decades, this lingering mention of unreleased material was all that die-hard fans of the band had to hold on to.
Then, in what might have been the straw to break the proverbial villagers’ backs had it been yet another lie, a visibly emphatic Shields told London from onstage in late January that his band’s new record would be out “in two or three days”. This time, we soon found ourselves staring at the remnants of a massively-undergunned website which had crashed due to the siege of online purchases that had taken place in the immediate aftermath of the album’s release. Simply titled m b v
, the existence of a third My Bloody Valentine record quickly underlined a burning question that had been raised by the excellent Creation remasters of the preceding year, namely: did we really
need a follow up to Loveless
? A quick analysis of that album’s cultural footprint suggests that it is now so finely placed in the landscape of modern musical history that it seems almost blasphemous to attempt to add a coda of sorts to it now. Yet Shields will be the first to tell you that he strongly feels otherwise: “I think with this record, people who like us will immediately connect with something,” he said in an interview with NME. “Based on the very, very few people who’ve heard stuff – some engineers, the band, and that’s about it – some people think it’s stranger than Loveless
. I don’t. I feel like it really frees us up, and in the bigger picture it’s 100 per cent necessary."
And he is absolutely right. While m b v
is a record that is more than capable of standing on its own, at the same time it also sounds exactly like the sort of thing that we might have expected My Bloody Valentine to produce two decades ago, and this noticeable lack of allegiance to the present is perhaps the most potent thing about this entire revisionist affair. Album opener “She Found Now”, for instance, comes replete with a thick and dreamy guitar sound whose continuous sense of locomotion repeatedly brings to mind classic, equally-as-restless cuts from Loveless
like “To Here Knows When” and “Come in Alone”. Equally of note is the fact that the song deliberately chooses to wait for an additional, impossibly agonizing second before finally blooming into life and starting the record proper; there is now absolutely no doubt in my mind that Kevin Shields is a cruel, cruel man. Elsewhere, “Only Tomorrow” expands on m b v
’s secondary role as a new prism through which to view Loveless
and Isn’t Anything
, with Shields stretching his guitar to its logical conclusion by oscillating a single, heavily-distorted riff for minutes on end before allowing it to fade away in a blaze of washed out reverb. “Who Sees You” in turn motors along like a small, organic whirlpool, with the song’s subtle auditory manipulations and careful use of layering allowing everything to blur into a continuous and satisfying whole. Meanwhile the bizarrely-titled “Is This and Yes” finds Bilinda Butcher throwing out formless “oohs” down the microphone, with her calm, purposeful manner suggesting an artist observing, with great interest, the resulting patterns created by deliberately hurling massive blobs of paint onto the walls of her studio.
Things get even more interesting in m b v
’s second half, as the familiar trappings that characterized the first twenty-six minutes or so of the record subside and are gradually replaced by faster and slightly more unhinged cuts. The suitably-titled “New You” is the first of the lot, with the song introducing itself by riding a series of Debbie Googe’s walloping bass chords while Shields’ and Butcher’s guitars slide delightfully in and out of focus in the background. “In Another Way” is likely the most aggressive song that My Bloody Valentine has written since 1988’s “You Made Me Realise”, but it’s the fusion of the synth lines in the background – which are, incidentally, strongly reminiscent of those heard on “Sometimes” – and the distinctly Middle Eastern vibe that kicks off the song that allow it to succeed on several levels. And then there’s “Wonder 2”, whose whup-whup-whup
guitar vortex strongly recalls a troop of helicopters flying away into the distance and leaving tiny eddies in their wake. But the really amazing thing about m b v
is how convincing and fresh it feels despite being so stylistically similar to everything that My Bloody Valentine had ever done before. Shields has probably had the same revelation himself: “I realized that all that stuff I was doing in 1996 and 1997 was a lot better than I thought,” he confessed in an interview just after his band’s reformation in 2008; hindsight is always 20/20, after all.
Having finally delivered their much-awaited payload, there’s seriously no telling where My Bloody Valentine will go or what they will do after this. It’s clear that they intend to continue touring their new album, at least for a while, but what happens after that is frankly anybody’s guess. Rumours of plans for an EP of entirely new material have already surfaced, but that honestly feels inconsequential in the face of m b v
’s stunning success. Make no mistake about it: this album is that rare thing – an actual instance where an unbelievably long gestation period has not resulted in an album being noticeably reduced in quality. But even more importantly for Kevin Shields, unlike that boy who cried wolf, at least here he has his happy ending.