My Bloody Valentine
|Track||Album / EP / Single|
|You Made Me Realise||Creation CRE 055|
|Feed Me With Your Kiss||Creation CRE 061 / Isn't Anything|
|Nothing Much To Lose||Isn't Anything|
|Soon||Glider EP / Loveless|
|Off Your Face||Glider EP|
|To Here Knows When||Tremolo EP / Loveless|
|When You Sleep||Loveless|
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The only My Bloody Valentine music on Spotify is “Isn’t Anything” and “Loveless”, the two Creation albums, plus the EP compilation “1988–1991”. I have chosen the top ten from this material as I know Toppermost utilise Spotify playlists. However, there are many songs from before and after this period that I mention within the text so I shall include links to YouTube where possible. This should give the reader and listener a better understanding of the story of My Bloody Valentine.
My Bloody Valentine (l to r): Kevin Shields (vocals, guitar), Bilinda Butcher (vocals, guitar), Debbie Googe (bass), Colm Ó Cíosóig (drums))
Contributor: Rob Morgan
27th January 2013, Electric Brixton, London. My Bloody Valentine are playing a warm up gig before heading to Asia for a tour. The four piece band have been playing around the world since they reformed in 2007, but so far the setlist has always been old material. Not that that is a problem in itself, but the eternal question is the elephant in the room – “Is there a new album due?” After all, it’s now been twenty two years since My Bloody Valentine issued Loveless, their second full length album, and very little has been heard since, certainly not new original material. But on this cold January day, My Bloody Valentine open their set with a new song. It sounds rough, it sort of falls apart, but it is actually a new song by My Bloody Valentine. A heckler shouts to lead guitarist Kevin Shields, “When’s the new album out then?” Shields mumbles something about “two or three days, maybe three days”. Nobody believes him. Internet forums laugh at the idea. This is a band who took four years to sort out the reissue programme for their back catalogue – promised in 2008 and finally reaching the shops in 2012. If it took them that long to reissue their old material, then don’t hold your breath for the new album. At least, so said all the naysayers on the Internet.
Jump ahead a few days – to the 2nd February to be precise – and something amazing happens. The MBV website updates to give details of a new album, entitled m b v, featuring nine new songs. It’s available as a download and eventually the CD and or LP will drop through the purchaser’s letter box. Nobody can quite believe it, is it a wind up? The website crashes, finally becoming viable around midnight, and the little world that cares about MBV suddenly goes nuts. Websites try to outdo each other about the new album; who can be the first to review it, who will give the definitive view on it, everyone desperately trying to find new words to describe the new sounds. Because after all these years a new album by My Bloody Valentine is an Event. It was not always this way, however. There were many years when nobody really cared that much about My Bloody Valentine.
The band were formed around guitarist Kevin Shields and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, both from Dublin, during the early 80s. Adding Debbie Googe on bass and Dave Conway on vocals, they moved to Berlin to record and release their debut mini album This Is Your Bloody Valentine in 1985. It’s an odd listen, sounding very much of its time, a little bit Cramps, a little bit noisy indie pop; Conway can’t quite decide which register suits his voice – deeper for power or higher for tunefulness – while Shields throws in some basic rock licks in songs like Forever And Again and Tiger In My Tank. It is an interesting curio of the band’s baby steps. Returning to London in 1986, they recorded their debut EP for Fever Records – the Geek! EP – which fitted in more with the burgeoning C86 scene. Songs like No Place To Go and Moonlight mix bright trebly guitars with a wall of fuzz in the background, and Ó Cíosóig starts to develop his unique style of straight ahead drumming with simple fills. Later that year they moved to Joe Foster’s Kaleidoscope Sound label for The New Record By My Bloody Valentine, another four song EP. Lead song, Lovelee Sweet Darlene, is more developed, the wall of fuzz is slowly getting louder in the mix, the drums stumble and there’s a strange pop sense within the noise. On closing song, We’re So Beautiful, the guitars fizz and fuzz while the bass holds the melody, a sign of things to come. Yet very few people were noticing them, the singles barely making the lower reaches of the indie charts.
In 1987, Lazy Records had enough faith in them to allow MBV to make two singles and another mini album. Maybe the label had a little influence on the direction of the band – after all, Lazy was run by the manager of the Primitives and had issued all their early records. The Sunny Sundae Smile 7″ and 12″ singles again increased the pop craft, the treble and the fuzz and contained a few gems like the title track and Paint A Rainbow. However, this would be their last record with Conway who moved on to writing. He was replaced by Bilinda Butcher who had not really played much guitar before she joined the band.
The first two records made by the new line up of MBV are pregnant with promise. The seven track Ecstasy mini album sees Butcher taking the majority of the lead vocals, while Shields steps forward shyly to sing as well. There’s more jangling twelve strings but also the layer of fuzz is starting to envelop the sound of the band. Traditional sound levels are being slowly corrupted, the vocals are layered within the sound, the treble is almost magnesium bright (especially on You’ve Got Nothing) – there’s more emphasis on rolling drums and bass than guitar riffs, as on the closer (Please) Lose Yourself In Me. And on Clair there is a layer of white noise running throughout the song, a harbinger of things to come. (The white noise is a looped sample of teenage girls screaming at the Beatles). After the mini LP came another single, Strawberry Wine, which is an absolute gem of a song, swooning and swaying, bucolic imagery mixed with a tale of unrequited love, the haze of guitars hiding a deliciously sweet melody, Butcher and Shields cooing and sighing – this was perfect pop with a kick.
However, nobody was really taking much notice of My Bloody Valentine as 1988 started. Their contract with Lazy was over, they had no real prospects of a new label, they even considered changing their name to remove the stigma of what little reputation they had. Then in January 1988 they supported Biff Bang Pow in London and their fortunes changed forever.
Biff Bang Pow were the band formed and fronted by Alan McGee, erstwhile head of Creation Records, a label known at the time for being the home of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Weather Prophets, Primal Scream and many other bands in debt to both the Velvet Underground and the Byrds. McGee heard MBV play and immediately offered them a chance to record for Creation. He would later describe how he had a revelation that night that MBV were “The British Hüsker Dü”, although in his autobiography McGee says it was more like an indie Motorhead. The reason for this may have been You Made Me Realise, a new song they played that night.
My Bloody Valentine had made their great leap forward. They had stopped trying to ape the sounds of indie pop – the Byrds and Buzzcocks lineage of C86 – and looked towards the noisier wilder music emerging from the underground in America – bands like Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. But they made these influences their own, and merged them with ideas from British psychedelia and freakbeat – bands like the Creation, the Eyes and the Pretty Things, guitars and amplifiers pushed to the edge, reality starting to blur, strange memories from the past and a fatalism about the future, an eternal now of living in the moment. Throw all these thoughts and feelings into a blender and the music MBV produced in 1988 emerges. You Made Me Realise was the start of an incredibly fertile creative period for the band which would produce two EPs, an album and numerous extra songs within six months, a period which would also be remarkably influential.
You Made Me Realise was a slap in the face, a sledgehammer of sound and a wall of noise. The song is skewed by a pounding opening riff before it speeds through its changes – Shields and Butcher sing together with a new urgency but mixed down so words are guessed rather than understood, while everything in the song is pushed to the edge; most of all the amazing middle eight where the band pound out a single note for thirty seconds and the song feels like it is levitating, strangely weightless – before slamming back into gear for the rest of the song, which concludes with layers of noise rising and then dropping away.
You Made Me Realise was a remarkable rebirth, yet it was only the title track on a five track EP which contained other fantastic music. Slow was a mid tempo grind of woozy guitars and fuzz bass, where MBV introduced another innovation into their sonic arsenal – what Shields called “glide guitar”, utilising the whammy bar on Fender Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars to bend whole chords instead of single notes. Thorn was a speedy blast of melody with a bitter aftertaste in the lyrics, while the two closing tracks, Cigarette In Your Bed and Drive It All Over Me allow Butcher some lead vocals, again with fatalistic lyrics. Cigarette In Your Bed featured the first appearance of another of their signature sounds from this period – a wall of guitars sent through a reverse reverb, giving a strange disorientating backdrop to an intimate song. It was another highlight on a wonderful record.
Cigarette In Your Bed would be the first MBV song I heard too. It appeared in the middle of Doing It For The Kids, a low price compilation issued by Creation in August amidst much publicity for the label. Creation was having one of its occasional bursts of being cool; as labelmates The House Of Love were being feted as the saviours of indie rock, so they capitalised on this by issuing a cheap compilation of past and present treasures, a publicity drive of reduced price back catalogue (which is why I have three Felt albums with a Doing It For The Kids sticker) and a London showcase gig featuring short sets by as many of their acts they could get. The House Of Love headlined the gig but My Bloody Valentine were the band who walked away with all the publicity; the music press adored them and their new sound and they blew everyone else off stage. You Made Me Realise was issued immediately after the concert and was an immediate hit on the indie charts. My Bloody Valentine had finally arrived.
Interest in the band was heightened a few months later with the release of their next single Feed Me With Your Kiss at the end of October, giving some indication of how their full length debut album would sound. This was another EP – four songs this time – which was as consistent as their previous release. Every song was excellent. I recall hearing the title track on John Peel’s show at the time and being amazed at how distorted everything sounded, as if the song was being obliterated by a wall of overdriven amplifiers. Once more, the bass guitar took a prominent role, fuzzed up and raucous, while the guitars hovered in the middle distance, sliding around the riffs, as the drums pound out – before the whole band seem to levitate on the chorus while Shields and Butcher coo “So feed me with your kiss” – dragging out the final word … oh and did I mention how the band absolutely slam through a skewed riff, hammering on a note four times, five times, six times … it’s a giddy, bewildering song and gives some clue what the forthcoming album will sound like. As I said, the other songs on the EP are no slouches either. I Believe hums and hovers, Shields’ mumble drowning in a sea of guitar noise. Emptiness Inside could be a conventional indie tune, played by anyone else, but here is punctuated by bursts of drums and discordant riffing. Lastly, I Need No Trust is dark as the night, a martial drum beat, those distinctive backwards reverbed guitars waver and a vocal from Shields which is slurred and scared. Again, the music press adored the single; it climbed high into the indie charts and anticipation for the album was heightened.
When their debut album, Isn’t Anything, was released in November 1988 it caused quite a stir. I remember reading an interview with Felt at that time where they’re talking about it – Lawrence couldn’t understand an album being called something as blank as “Isn’t anything” while photographer Joe Dilworth claimed, “That album, it does your head in”. It was Dilworth who took the pictures for the album sleeve, the images being a perfect representation of the album itself; the four band members are jumbled up, too close to see clearly and overexposed, close to whiteout.
Writing about Isn’t Anything is tricky for me. This is one of my Desert Island Discs, an album I’ve played thousands of times, the most played album on my ipod, the album that always gets me pumping up the volume, the album that may cause me tinnitus one day. I cannot imagine life without this album, I’ve listened to it at least once a week since I bought it in June 1989 (it was the first album I bought with my first ever pay packet). This album can be seen as the birthplace of a whole style of music. This album has had writers far better than myself frantically thumbing through their thesauri for superlatives. And I’ve foolishly decided to write about it myself? What does this momentous album sound like? And what does it mean to me? Let me try, but I promise I won’t do it justice, but I’ll try.
Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside) sets the parameters; rumbling overdriven bass, surging guitars, stop start rhythms and frantic drumming. And more than anything it sounds ridiculously carnal, the words are … rude but not in a dirty or seedy way. Shields and Butcher coo in harmony over waves of guitar noise. Lose My Breath is slower, a cocoon of reverse reverberated acoustic guitars while Butcher sings in a small voice; it is claustrophobic and breathless in the same way as an asthma attack. Cupid Come is more swooning guitars and hammering drums while Shields gets carnal again. There is that line in the middle which always takes my breath away – “Every time I look at you it pins me to the ground.” How great is that? This is the sound of a four piece band playing on the edge. The drums are slightly ragged in places but that just adds to the humanity of the sound. Yet still some unearthly white noise rushes emerge through the song.
(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream is faster with stops and starts and a huge riff while Butcher coos and Shields struggles to get heard above the noise. No More Sorry returns to the claustrophobic sound of Lose My Breath and this time it is even more worrying and unsettling, Butcher sings in a disengaged whisper which makes it even more chilling. All I Need sounds like nothing on earth. It sounds like what a baby hears in the womb, a heartbeat pulse, waves of guitars heard through a fog of reverb (technically this is all ‘wet’ reverb sound), the acoustics are totally skewed, and God knows what Butcher and Shields are singing. As the song closes you hear something playing backwards in the background, just out of earshot.
Side two kicks off with Feed Me With Your Kiss before moving into the frantic Sueisfine; waves of noise and guitars and crazed drumming, and the words are desperate and needy and express the strange desire for someone, anyone, to notice when someone is at the end of their tether. Several Girls Galore is almost bass-less, the guitars sounding like accelerating cars, drums all over the place, just hanging on by the fingernails. The final trio is my favourite part of the album. You Never Should is a hurtle towards desire, with a guitar solo of almost atonal white noise while guitar chords swoop around like vultures. Nothing Much To Lose starts with crazy flailing drums and guitars before settling into what could almost be called a normal jangling indie pop song, but it’s still got these juggernauts of noise driving through it. Finally, I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It) is a lovely closer, senses confused, all over the place but such a gorgeous melody as Butcher and Shields sing together. The whole album is very sexual, not in a “Let’s get it on” way, it isn’t romantic, it’s close and intimate and confused and desperate and hyped up and … it’s like real life, with a lot of white noise interference. There was an amazing amount of great music issued in 1988 but Isn’t Anything stands alongside 69 by A.R.Kane and Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk as the best avant-rock music of that year.
If that wasn’t enough, early copies of Isn’t Anything came with a free single containing two instrumentals. Instrumental #1 was a stop start riff monster, just needing some words to make it a killer MBV song, but on the other side Instrumental #2 was a pointer to the future. There’s a hip hop drum loop sampled from Security Of The First World by Public Enemy, and over that someone (presumably Shields) plays a ghostly guitar part, smothered in reverb and delay and sounding like nothing on earth. It is a remarkable sound, spare and spooked and haunting and beautiful. Also around this point, My Bloody Valentine recorded a song called Sugar for a flexi disc which again pointed to the future; the looped percussion track, sampled snare drum snap, and strange melodic elements made up of harmonics or feedback, or maybe both. Adding all this music together – the two EPs, the album and the extra tracks mentioned – would provide the basis for the style of music known as shoegazing.
During 1989, MBV toured to support the album and started to record their next album. According to an interview with Melody Maker in 1990 they had started recording early in 1989, had thirty pieces completed and it was finished except for the vocals. This should have been taken with a pinch of salt, but at the time of the interview MBV had just issued a new four song EP entitled Glider and statements like this in interviews were taken as facts. After all, Glider was another leap forward.
The opening track, Soon, was an immense juggernaut of sound, built on an undercarriage of danceable beats, smothered in distorted guitars, some heavenly (and almost completely unintelligible) singing from Butcher (and possibly Shields too, it’s hard to say) and riffs which just stay on the right side of repetitive, more trance like than anything MBV had produced before. And as it carries on relentlessly for almost seven minutes, it’s easy to get lost within the sound, so the end – where the drum beats drop away and layers of guitars disappear – always comes as a surprise. Glider is four minutes of grinding guitars, interlocking perfectly while other guitars sound like circling vultures. (My main memory of this track was playing it on my Walkman while on a multiple unit train to Bristol, speeding through the Severn Tunnel backwards with all the carriage windows open – it fitted perfectly!). Don’t Ask Why is almost a conventional song; a tambourine tapping, a juddering guitar, a vocal from Shields which is audible and understandable, some sweet harmonies … then at three minutes a huge distorted guitar obliterates everything until the end of the song. And finally, Off Your Face closes the EP with my favourite My Bloody Valentine song.
What is it about Off Your Face which makes it so special? Maybe it’s because it’s almost a normal pop song. Everything is almost in the right place, guitars are jangly and sweet, the drums are straight ahead and motorik with normal drum rolls, but there’s something not quite right about some aspects – bass guitar wanders around seemingly untethered to octaves and somewhere in the background it sounds like there’s a number of guitars arguing with each other. And Butcher is singing and something isn’t quite right there either … “Hate, what made you think I could adore you?” but sung so sweetly. After two minutes, the singing stops and these twin swooping guitars which have been in the background take over and “solo”, ducking and diving like birds courting each other, and it carries on for another two ecstatic minutes before the song fades out, and suddenly the arguing guitars are in the foreground for about three seconds. OK maybe it’s just me, but this is one of my favourite songs ever. I’ve listened to it countless times and still swoon with joy hearing it, picking up the details. It’s so close to indie pop but so much more too.
The Glider EP was released in April 1990 to unanimous praise, and it was mentioned in dispatches by no less than Brian Eno, who told Rolling Stone magazine that Soon had “set a new standard in pop”, and even recently praised the song on the Quietus website – though he admitted he hadn’t played the rest of the Glider EP … oh Brian! The record just grazed the charts too – it reached number 41 on its first week of release, a move that reflects some of the changes in indie music during the late 80s; the rise of bands like the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Primal Scream into the charts during the previous year had allowed space for bands like MBV and Ride on the charts. Andrew Weatherall remixed Soon for a 12″ dance mix which is of its time, but still rather good, and the B-side of that remix was the full ten minutes of Glider, which shows how it is built up from very little to become a monstrous sound.
Work continued on the next MBV album and, as they predicted in that 1990 MM interview, another single was issued before the album. Only the single was issued in February 1991, while the album continued at this point to be incomplete. But what a fantastic single it was. I remember a week before it was released, Peel played it in full – two songs on side one, two songs on side two – and I played the tape over and over until the record was out. This was the Tremolo EP and it sounded like nothing else. To Here Knows When was a startling lead track, not just because it was based on a rhythm sampled from an escalator at a London Underground station. That was probably the most normal part of the song. There were also strange semi-classical loops embedded in the sound world, Butcher’s beautiful melodious vocal (no words discernible at all again) and a strange warped sound throughout the entire song – weaving in and out of focus, bending around the melody and chords, a smear of sound, and all the more remarkable for being just one guitar apparently. This warped sound caused all kinds of consternation at Creation Records. Was the advance tape warped? Was it supposed to sound like that? What if record purchasers sent the record back because they thought there was a problem with it? Either way, the song remained the same and stood out mightily from any other record at the time.
The other three songs on Tremolo were no slouches either. Swallow weaved around like a belly dancer, an Arabic melody darting through the song, rather enchanting. Honey Power was as close to conventional as the EP got and still sounded phenomenal – the straight ahead power of Off Your Face turbocharged with huge waves of warping guitars, but with sweet melodies underneath. Finally, Moon Song was awash with guitars, some gently tapped bongos, a campfire song from the end of the world, and a discernible vocal from Shields at last, Best of all, this was a four song EP with seven pieces of music on it. Between the four songs were short melodic pieces which were almost as crazy as the songs themselves – sometimes backwards loops, sometimes snippets of guitar melodies – but all three link pieces were uncredited. At the time there was some rule by the chart compilers that a single could not have more than four songs on it to qualify for the charts, and this was MBV getting around that rule. And of course MBV had the last laugh, as the single entered the charts at number 28, meaning that Bruno Brookes or whoever presented the Radio One chart show played To Here Knows When, this vague strange music, plus the linking snippet into Swallow on prime time radio! Well it felt like a small victory at the time, and small victories are important.
Times were changing again. The music of My Bloody Valentine had become influential and by 1991 there were a whole flock of bands who were taking their cues from MBV – bands such as Lush, Chapterhouse, Pale Saints, Boo Radleys, Moose, Whipping Boy, Ride, Slowdive, Telescopes, Bleach, Revolver, Curve … These bands would be lumped under the stylistic banner ‘shoegazing’ by the music press, mainly due to them staring at their effects pedals (or the song lyrics on the floor) rather than interacting with the audience. The sound of shoegazing was noisy guitars, sweet melodies, huge reverbs and echoes, and a desire to overwhelm the senses, and it worked.
And throughout 1991, Creation kept on promising that there would be a new album from My Bloody Valentine. Meanwhile rumours were spreading that Shields was becoming a control freak in the studio, recording guitars inside tents and other behaviours to reach the perfect sound in his head. The bills were spiralling upwards. There was a long list of casualities – studios and engineers – as Shields attempted the impossible. And finally it was finished, ready for release on 4th November 1991. Regardless of the state of the label’s finances, autumn 1991 was a prime time for Creation Records. It issued Screamadelica by Primal Scream, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne (via the Heavenly subsidiary) within a space of a few months and Loveless would be the icing on the cake for the label. (For further information about how these albums are related to each other, “Higher Than The Sun” by Tim Worthington is highly recommended.)
What can be said about Loveless which hasn’t already been said a hundred times? It is a record which demands to be played loud. In fact, my own CD of it has a damaged case after I played it so loud that it made the fragile ceiling above my hifi collapse. It is a record which continues to bewilder, intrigue and enchant. It is a record whose reputation has risen over the years, has become a timeless classic which stands outside time and musical progress. It’s a hymn to one man’s vision of what he believed music could be. It’s a racket, a collection of unearthly sourceless sounds, an album which allegedly cost a quarter of a million pounds to make, used eighteen studio engineers and countless studios all over London. This is impossible music too, impossible to imagine how the sounds were created, drums sampled and programmed into computers to recreate the original drummer’s patterns, guitars sampled and manipulated beyond the point of recognition, melodies so sweet they could give you tooth decay, sounds so harsh they take your head off, and there are more of those little linking passages of music between the songs too.
It is tricky then to write about Loveless without sounding like either (a) an idiot or (b) the Pretentious Music Journalist on ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ (“Sonic cathedrals of sound!”). So here goes …
Only Shallow has rampaging guitars like copulating whales, Loomer is a drifting chaos of noise and melody, Touched is a short interlude of orchestral samples and elephants, To Here Knows When suddenly makes perfect sense within this music. I could go on but it wouldn’t give you, dear reader, any idea of what this music sounds like. My advice is to listen to the entire album, from one end to the other, on headphones, without distractions and let the music overwhelm you, because it always will. Loveless is like a cocoon of sound, nothing comes in and nothing gets out – step inside and you will never want to leave. Highlights? When You Sleep is as straightforward as the album gets; a heavenly melody played by god knows what, Butcher and Shields cooing again, almost intelligible (Shields at the time claimed each vocal was recorded about twenty times and played simultaneously to obtain that smeared sound), a pop song hiding within an ocean of noise. Sometimes is a delicate song, not quite obliterated by the noisy guitars, a dreamless drift with a gorgeous rising melody. Blown A Wish is like bubblegum music from Mars, overpowering in its sweetness yet with a bitter hint within the lyrics. When Soon arrives at the end of the album, it sounds like sheer ecstasy, a blissful escape out of the noise.
After the long awaited release of Loveless, My Bloody Valentine started to tour to promote it, gigs that were notoriously loud and also notable for how they ended. Each gig finished with You Made Me Realise, and during the middle eight, where the sound on record hammers away on one note for thirty seconds, the band now hammered that note for between fifteen to twenty minutes before turning back into the song again. It became known (rather tastelessly) as the “holocaust” section of the song. I was lucky enough to see MBV at this time, they toured the UK in early 1992 as part of the “Rollercoaster” package of bands – Blur, MBV, Dinosaur Jr and headliners the Jesus and Mary Chain taking indie noise around the UK. I saw this at Cardiff Ice Rink, a horrible venue especially in the middle of winter. Dinosaur Jr opened the gig and were loud, lax and great. Blur were next and surprised me, playing songs which would be released on Modern Life Is Rubbish a year later, the grinding Pressure On Julian accompanied by a very Hipgnosis-like film of a man cleaning his car, in reverse. Then MBV came on, hardly any light, just flickers from films in the background, the biggest loudest noise I have ever heard, and a brilliant set of songs – I Only Said, Slow, Nothing Much To Lose, When You Sleep, Soon, To Here Knows When and finally You Made Me Realise. I was sat at the back (I couldn’t stand the cold from the ice rink on my feet) and watched the audience as the hammering section started, some freaked out, some wandered off, it was weird, very disorientating – the noise was so constant that I could almost ignore it, like my brain could filter it out. Then My Bloody Valentine were gone, they left the stage and I knew in my heart that whatever the Jesus and Mary Chain did, it could not better MBV, so I left before the headliners came on. I had ringing in my ears for two days afterwards, but it was worth it.
As MBV toured Europe and America in 1992 to promote Loveless it was announced that they had parted company from Creation Records. Whether it’s true that the cost of the album bankrupted the label is debatable – the raft of compilations of any old back catalogue issued by the label during 1991 to raise money does indicate this to be true – the strain was mainly in the relationship between Kevin Shields and Alan McGee, who had some kind of breakdown around this point. Soon MBV were snapped up by Island Records for a rather large advance and a promise of new music very soon. Shields built a studio for himself to his own exacting standards and started work on a third album. As 1992 closed, the first fruits emerged. MBV had covered We Have All The Time In The World for a charity compilation, Peace Together. It was lovely, quite a straightforward normal cover version, no enormous waves of horny wildebeests smothering the song.
The next new music from MBV was another cover version, this time Map Ref 41°N 93°W for a Wire tribute album, and this time there were enormous waves of horny wildebeests smothering the song (actually, the wonderful juddering waves of guitar on this were generated by a single effect pedal – the Lovetone Meatball). It was another faithful cover version; Shields admitted as much in an interview that they copied the bass and drum patterns and tempo exactly. But this Wire cover was issued in 1995, and no actual new music had emerged since Loveless. Rumours were rife of studio problems, wiring difficulties, crazed sessions, a move towards jungle and drum ‘n’ bass music … but nothing was released.
Eventually, whatever momentum My Bloody Valentine had, ebbed away and the band slowly fell apart. Debbie Googe left to form Snowpony, Colm Ó Cíosóig drifted off to drum with Hope Sandoval amongst others, and Kevin Shields helped out with Primal Scream, playing guitar live and in the studio and remixing and producing some of their songs too. He also carried out remixes for other artists – Mogwai and Yo La Tengo remixes are worth digging for. Shields was persuaded to create some new music by Sofia Coppola for her film Lost In Translation, which also used Sometimes from Loveless. He produced four pieces of music for her, gorgeous drifting instrumentals like Ikebana, and Goodbye, and in City Girl a lovely song which sounds like a demo from the Glider era. Shields worked with Coppola again, remixing two Bow Wow Wow songs for the soundtrack of her Marie Antoinette film in 2006.
In the meantime, the absence of the band and the unique nature of their music – and Loveless in particular – enhanced the legend of the band being sonic explorers searching for the perfect effect pedal. By 2008, Shields was using over fifty pedals live. A renewed interest in shoegazing led to a resurgence of interest in the band and their style of music. The 21st century explosion in blogging and sharing music only helped MBV as new fans approached their music without any stigma (shoegazing popularity in the music papers in 1991 had been shortlived and for a long time the style of music and the associated bands were deeply unfashionable). There was even a new category for these bands called “nu-gaze”, artists as diverse as Ulrich Schnauss, Maps, My Vitriol, M83 and Ringo Deathstarr owed differing levels of debt to MBV and their ilk.
This surge of interest led to a reformation of My Bloody Valentine in 2007 and an extensive touring schedule around Europe, America and Asia. They were louder than ever but were now handing out ear plugs at their gigs. In 2008, news spread that there would be remastered editions of Isn’t Anything and Loveless and, indeed, remasters leaked onto the internet – Loveless was a double CD with versions from two sources, and some unreleased material leaked at the same time which was supposedly for a compilation to accompany the remasters. However, there were inevitable delays and the remastered back catalogue finally reached the shops in 2012, accompanied by a double disc set EPs 1988–1991 compiling the four Creation EPs, plus additional material such as the ten minute Glider, the instrumentals from the free single with Isn’t Anything and Sugar. And finally some new music too; three unreleased tracks from 1988-1990 were included – interesting but not essential. But the positive reception the new material received encouraged Shields to return to the music recorded in the mid 90s, and to construct a new album.
Which brings us back to where this piece started. Rumours of a new My Bloody Valentine album had existed since the nineties but nothing had ever been heard. It was a long running joke on music forums and various places on the internet. Indeed there is a Fake Kevin Shields account on Twitter which started 2013 saying, “Just had an interview with Pitchfork and told them the new record was coming out on Wednesday. It’s not” and “It’s true, the album will be out within 2-3 days of me completing it in 2-3 years”. Then on 2nd February the account just tweets “Woah!” The impossible had actually happened. There was a third My Bloody Valentine album and it was called m b v (all lower case, as were the song titles). I logged on to the website as quickly as I could, paid my money for the CD and downloaded the new album and listened to little else for about two weeks. Was it worth the wait?
Of course it was. m b v wasn’t perfect, but it was wonderful. If anything, the album is slightly overlooked and underrated now. At the time, the music media lapped it up and waxed lyrical about it, but nobody really mentions it these days. It’s there to be discovered, if you want it. But it is essential, as any new MBV music should be. It starts with she found now which sounds like a continuation of Sometimes, beatless and blissful, guitars gliding again, like stepping back into a warm bath. only tomorrow thunders in on an off kilter riff and drumbeat and thrusting bass, again a very familiar sound and lovely too, and the song closes with a wonderful sleepily melodic guitar solo. who sees you is similarly grungey with those wailing not-quite-guitars again, woozy and washed out. is this and yes is the first big surprise – absolutely no guitars, the faintest bass drum beats, keyboard chords and twinkling sounds around, and Butcher just cooing again, Spellbinding stuff. if i am hangs on a viciously filtered guitar riff, new you is a partial return to Off Your Face, a perfect pop song, understandable lyrics, a distinct lack of distortion, this could have been a hit single; it is absolutely brilliant, showing they always knew how to make pop music all along.
Then the last three songs are a shock. in another way hurries in on crazed drums, thundering guitars, sometimes dub-like effects; it sounds huge and wonderful. nothing is is maddening – a small loop of sound repeated over and over again for three minutes, but somehow it changes slightly each time, maintaining interest, as if Shields is mixing the individual elements in the loop live. Finally, wonder 2 is a remnant from the “jungle and drum ‘n’ bass” project from the nineties – a rhythm track flanged beyond all recognition, guitars and vocals constantly moving, always rising, an incredible end to the album.
Is that the end of the My Bloody Valentine story? It is very hard to say, They continued to tour to support the new album and Kevin Shields gave many interviews in which he said there was another EP of material ready and a new album soon, but these have yet to materialise four years on. Will the faithful keep waiting? Of course we will, we waited twenty-two years for the follow up to Loveless. As the years pass, the reputation of My Bloody Valentine continues to rise. Both Creation albums are regardly included in ‘best of’ lists by various journals, Loveless has been covered by Japanese artists twice. There is far more interest in the ‘shoegazing’ genre now than there ever was back in the early 90s. The reformation of MBV led directly to other shoegazing acts like Slowdive, Lush and Ride to reform and record new music, and there is definitely a market for this music now, websites devoted to shoegazing old and new.
The MBV sound has been a huge influence on a lot of artists from U2 to Smashing Pumpkins to Mogwai and The Radio Dept. Their music is timeless and will continue to draw new fans, while fascinating those like myself who have immersed themselves in the noise and melodies for over two decades.