#6: Loveless by My Bloody Valentine
For the #6 spot on this list I’m getting a little bit off the beaten path. In fact, I’m getting a lot off the beaten path. Why? Because for a list to be more comprehensive a person needs to run off more than just what came out around the time of Sgt. Pepper’s and jazz’s crowning achievement. And the works that were buried by Sgt. Pepper (Pet Sounds) and the works that were hailed as the next Sgt. Pepper (almost too many to count but The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, What’s Going On?, and the soundtrack to Superfly! could all be named as examples) just can’t cut it for Top 10 material.
Instead, I turn to an Irish band not fronted by a natural grandstander- really not fronted by anyone. Instead, we have an Irish band that was reeling back from the brink of oblivion. They had recorded a dearth of material on mini-albums, EP’s, and singles, but had garnered minimal attention for them. Then they released an album called Isn’t Anything and escaped early associations with The Jesus and Mary Chain, and simultaneously practically invented the genre of shoegaze. Shoegaze was the designation of the genre after a critic had found that the band were less engaged with the audience and more engaged with their effects pedals. By the time Nirvana’s Nevermind had been released grunge had taken over the mainstream and My Bloody Valentine’s little idea was all but nipped in the bud.
Under these circumstances, having gained momentum and enough gravitas to do what they wanted to do, My Bloody Valentine spent over 2 years gestating Isn’t Anything’s follow-up in the studio. Produced by nominal bandleader and principle songwriter Kevin Shields, and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig on one track, the album went through a barrage of engineers many of whom were told just to “press buttons.” Ó Cíosóig, who had taken to the streets, was too sick to play the drums live other than on two tracks. Most of the album made use of samplers programmed either by Shields or Ó Cíosóig.
And that’s the story of a masterpiece. Not to cause confusion but even though the album featured singing it could still be passed off as an instrumental album. This has to do with the fact that Shields and other singer Bilinda Butcher had become interested in singing in such a way that the lyrics were forever obscured in a mixture of instruments and mumbling. This left only faint ideas of constructs, and an overall feeling that Kurt Cobain in his slurred delivery had not taken things nearly as far as he could have. The album instrumentally was a wave of Shields’s glide guitars (chords struck with heavy tremolo arm influence), bass performed also by Shields, and drums that fully embraced the 90’s dance aesthetic (high treble, less treated than the 80’s).
And the songs barreled through with that same idea holding them afloat. They had released a number of EP’s from 1988-1991 but nary a track on any of them could hold a candle to what was happening on Loveless. It was a catharsis, a drug experience without need for any drugs, a shot through simplified but great songs, the best of which represent some of the best music ever released, obviously. I’m talking about “Only Shallow”, “To Here Knows When”, “Blown A Wish”, and the “A Day In The Life”-level closer “Soon”, the greatest dance track of all time. Loveless is also breathless, and very much intense. But when you put your headphones on and turn it up high it doesn’t sound like it’s going to damage your ears. The rich onslaught is compressed but with none of the drawbacks that occur with compression. Shields had avowed wall-of-sound techniques of producers Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, but with this album he outdid both of them by embracing extremes both in sound and studio experimentation. I’ve only covered about half of what this album is in this posting. You’ll just have to listen to it for yourself to see what I mean. The rest of the dots are still out there to be connected. Have fun.