My Bloody Valentine: Looking back at their groundbreaking album, Loveless

On November 4th, 1991, My Bloody Valentine changed the face of guitar-based music with the groundbreaking album, Loveless. 26 years later, we look back at what makes this album so special.

It would be easy to disregard Loveless as nothing more than a pretentious racket, and even Creation Label boss, Alan McGee has claimed in interviews that the album is overrated. However, it takes some examination to really enjoy the decaying beauty buried inside the cascading wall of noise that spills from your speakers. To really get to know the album, you need to take a look back at what My Bloody Valentine were in their early days, which was essentially a jangle-pop band trying to be as edgy as The Cramps were. It’s far from terrible, but it wasn’t until they signed with Creation and released the cacophonic You Made Me Realise.

This spark of kinetic energy mixed with a hail of inventive guitar work would sow the seeds for their debut album, Isn’t Anything. A record of disjointed, twisted pop songs where Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, both vocalists and guitarists, trade off each other in what should be an ill-fitting, disharmonic manner. It works, though, and gave My Bloody Valentine their most exposure to date, meaning that at some point they would need to follow it up.

Starting work on Loveless in 1989, My Bloody Valentine gave a new meaning to the term “difficult second album.” It was not for their lack of ability, it was more down to shields own apparent narcissism – or desire for perfection. A number of unproductive writing and recording sessions would ensure, all the while Alan McGee and Creation were itching for a new record.

Things picked up when the band began work with then upcoming producer, Alan Moulder, who the band recorded Glider and Soon with, the latter of which would eventually close the album. Moulder was one of the few engineers that Shields felt he could trust, particularly when it came to amplifiers, and the band formed a bond with him that they couldn’t with the other credited producers. The only one who came close was Anjali Dutt in 1990, who replaced Moulder while he left for some other work. When he returned some 6 months later, he was apparently surprised by the lack of progress by the band after more than a year, which was also concerning Creation, and the cost of the album was racking up.

This continued for the next year, with the band spending days working on tracks only to discard them, and both Shields and Butcher undertaking 8 -10 hour vocal recording sessions, wanting to get everything perfect. After nearly 3 years, 19 studios, 18 engineers, £250,000 (allegedly) and Creation Records on the verge of Bankruptcy, Loveless was finally complete.

Upon its release, the album essentially went over the heads of many people. Kevin Shields had thrown the rulebook of indie rock out of the window showed the limitless potential of the instrument. Loveless had a sonic palette unlike any other, and while ‘shoegaze’ may be pretty hideous term and a dirty word, this album is the quintessential definition of the genre. It was far more expansive and exploratory than their contemporaries such as Slowdive, Ride, and Lush, and made visceral noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain sound like pop music.

The opening track, Only Shallow, is a caustic statement of intent, replacing the quiet/loud dynamic of grunge and alt-rock with loud/loud/louder. The distinctive and constant tremelo picking of Shields guitar, washed with effects of a powerful, looming rhythm section makes it one of the best opening tracks on an album ever. The hypnotic repetition that segues the tracks together makes it flow like a constant hum, yet the warm analog production envelops you in the most inviting manner.

It is not without catchy melody, though. When You Sleep is carried by a simplistic riff that drives the song, it just happens to be layered with fuzz, with an intricate lead line over the top that eats away at you. The sample loops and pounding beats of Sometimes may have appeal to the drug-heavy rave scene that was rising up in the early ‘90s, but the lush and lucid haze of Blown a Wish and I Only Said and gorgeous slices of dream pop perfection.

After more than 25 years, the album is considered one of the best albums of the ‘90s, and is arguably one of the most influential recordings of all time. While the whole ‘shoegaze’ has come around again, and subsequently been bastardised in almost record time by any band with a Jazzmaster and delay pedal, Loveless has been imitated more than almost any other record, but has yet to be bettered. It took My Bloody Valentine 20 years to follow it up, and while MBV was a great return to form, Loveless is an album in a league of its own and bigger than its creators.

At the start of 2018, and after many rumours, both Loveless and Isn’t Anything are being reissued by the band. Shields poured over the remastering process for years, mastering from ¼ inch analog tape and giving them the vinyl treatment they deserve after being out of print for years. A new record is also apparently in the works from My Bloody Valentine, and next year could be the year they take over, again.

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