In an era of bands reforming, reappearing and generally revising, sometimes apparently out of the blue, few albums have been as eagerly anticipated as My Bloody Valentine‘s third; and after twenty-two years it finally appeared on their own website with barely a breath of warning to the waiting throngs – and on YouTube when their servers crashed too. Freq offers three opinions on the mbv brouhaha.
Consensus here, some of it sounds like two hairdryers with someone trying to play a guitar solo. It keeps promising to stop, then lurches back into itself. Then a hoover comes in, along with a lawn trimmer on low batteries. Other bits sound like old people waking up, and being sick on bad drugs. Another one is some chords on a keyboard, with someone inarticulate who sounds like they’re moaning for help over them.Although it is rather wonderful, and good to have sex to. It grows on you, like mould does. If they release another one in 40 years or so, like Malevich’s White Square, it’ll have abstracted and monotonised itself almost into non-existence. There’ll be repetitive, almost inaudible wisps of sound with titles like ‘The’ and ‘I…’.
I’ll be dead, or about 80 years old by then. Bring it on.
After over twenty years the proto-shoegaze progenitors have dropped their third album. From the moment it was announced it brought a shudder of speculation amongst the fortysomething fans who for the most part had lost their floppy fringes, less through growing up than through the involuntary receding of the hairline.From one recession to another, My Bloody Valentine have resolutely done absolutely nothing on the recording side and during this hiatus their stock has risen wholly out of proportion with their influence or importance. Well, perhaps not importance. After all, any band who can help to bankrupt Creation Records can’t be all bad. However, in terms of influence, while many younger bands may claim a My Bloody Valentine influence, you’ll rarely hear it there in the sound. Which is just as well because there was never much in the sound that was worth imitating in the first place.
Since 2007, My Bloody Valentine have played a number of shows at unrelenting volumes to packed audiences. While we might applaud the notion of making ageing indie kids pay through the nose and then ruining their hearing, we are somewhat surprised that a group of musician that have been on stage from time to time since the ’80s haven’t lost their fear of playing live to the extent that they no longer need to hide behind incoherent volume. We can only assume that the success of Sunn O))) led them to believe that this was some kind of edgy artistic statement, or at least bankable.
However, as 2013 opened it became obvious that Kevin Shields couldn’t maintain the farce of telling the mob that the sequel to Loveless was just around the corner any more. He cracked. Whether this was because he felt that the fans finally deserved some solid product in return for their two decades of patience – or whether it was that he remembered that it’s really easy to make this stuff – we may never know.
So over to the album:
“She Found Now” emerges from the middle distance, wispy and fey, like they’d never gone away. Which of course they haven’t. They’ve just been sitting on their reputation hoping it’ll grow into a beanstalk. No drums. Just guitars, shimmer and breathy vocals. The trademark sound is already there; that nauseating gyrating of the Fender Jag tremolo arm. Hearing it at this distance of time from when we were all young and things were so much simpler, we haven’t missed it one little bit. Nasty little habit.“Only Tomorrow” is more of the same, but with drums that do that baggy thing that was so in vogue in the day. Caught in a timewarp doesn’t even start to cover it. They’re doing it again, more of that bloody Jag trem abuse, on “Who Sees You,” and here’s a little spoiler; they’ll be doing it a lot on most of this album. It’s what you might call a gimmick or a trope. Creative people tend to grow out of them or avoid this sort of neurotic compulsion. It’s forgiveable in a teenager but in middle-aged musicians it’s plain undignified. Might make you think that perhaps they were one trick ponies all along.
“If I Am” features Bilinda Butcher on lead vocals. They are breathy vocals. Well of course they are, but they are female instead of male this time. I’m not going to review this track because a thousand male MBV fans will attempt to kill me for dissing Bilinda because she was their first love and isn’t she gorgeous and all of that sort of thing. Just assume that this track is the same as the rest but it’ll make their fortysomething eyes go all puppylike.
“Is This And Yes” is an exception to the rule. Not in that it is stunning good, merely in that we are spared the Jaguar waggling. We hoped against hope that this track was inspired by Yes, partly due to the title and also due to the organ tone that reminded us of the opening of the immortal “Close To The Edge.” Unfortunately it isn’t deployed with any of the delicacy of that fine masterpiece. Anyway, then Bilinda starts the hushed singing so I can’t say anything more about this track and you really should close your mouth and stop dribbling.“New You” brings back that baggy beat that’ll have young people wondering why this generation thought that Primal Scream‘s “Loaded” was so important and why there was a big deal about the indie-dance crossover anyway. Being much more wily and cynical than we were at that age, they’ll probably just give a “whatever” and point out that declining guitar bands had to jump on that career bandwagon to monetise the operation. This number has less of the dense fog of overlayed-guitar-vapour-trail-cathedral-of sound-abstract-expressionist-a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-two-in-the-bush stuff we’ve been hearing on the rest of the album and underneath it MBV sound almost as bad as New Order. We almost feel like saying “bring back the Jag waggling, all is forgiven!” but of course we know that they will.
“In Another Way” made me lose the will to live a bit. I know MBV fans will be overjoyed by this but, that drum beat? Seriously? It’s almost the sort of bollocks you’d expect from Curve. What? You still like Curve too? This is horrible. “Nothing Is” is the point at which Shield et al‘s cynicism finally take over the album. We can only assume that in the rush to finish the album this was left most unfinished. Hey, let’s have a big crescendo! A what? Let’s make it get louder! Yeah, cool! It isn’t cool, it’s a half finished recording experiment from a wet Sunday that should have been left in the proverbial desk drawer permanently, and if it wasn’t then they really need to take a long hard look at themselves.Finally, and not before time, the track “Wonder 2” which has caused so many critics(!?) to gush uncontrollably. What can we say? Nice new flanger! Maybe they could use it sparingly or maybe not use it at all, because it doesn’t actually sound very good. We have to say that the old man drum’n’bass loop over the top is ageing them worse than anything else on the album. If that’s the new gimmick to replace the Jag-waggling these guys are really so dead in the water.
So yeah, didn’t like the music on the album one hell of a lot but it’s better than the album cover. In short: the new Bowie album cover is better.
My Bloody Valentine returned to Earth in January, taking to the stage for the first time in five years at the Brixon Electric to play a warm-up gig for their Asian tour. I was lucky enough to be in attendance and can confirm it was an absolute shambles of a show (although perhaps not entirely the fault of the band). A friend hilariously remarked afterwards that it was amazing to witness their first rehearsal in five years. At one point a member of the crowd cheekily asked Kevin Shields when the new album would be coming out. “Maybe in two or three days… three days” came the reply, and oh how we all laughed into our pints.
But there was one thing that had happened shortly beforehand; My Bloody Valentine, the band who have not released any new material since 1991’s Loveless, had actually opened the show with a NEW SONG, so maybe, just maybe, there was an element of truth in what the notoriously unproductive Shields had said.
Fast forward to the following Saturday night and the interweb fell to its knees shortly after the announcement of the aforementioned album, the rather uninspiringly-named m b v, which was available to buy and download from the bands rather creaky website. Click-hungry music websites such as The Quietus unsurprisingly fell over themselves to be the first to scramble and offer up track-by-track reviews; a rather pointless exercise to be fair.Now that the dust has settled and we’ve had time to digest what is possibly the most anticipated album of our time there is one question: is this fucking thing any good, was it worth the wait? The answer from yours truly is a resounding yes. Although it is debateable whether anyone would give a shit about My Bloody Valentine in 2013 had they released the follow-up to Loveless in 1993, and considering this album does contain tracks that have been kicking about since the ’90s it’s hard to not be slightly cynical.
Album opener “she found now” (all titles in lower case now, OK?) offers up a reasonably gentle opening (I remember the exact moment when I popped Loveless into my CD player for the first time and instantly had my mind COMPLETELY FUCKING BLOWN by “Only Shallow,” an album opener that was always going to be impossible to top) that resembles “Sometimes” from Loveless, Shields softly singing over two electric guitars, bass and drums being completely absent in the mix. The MBV glide guitar is there though, and it’s an absolute pleasure to hear is again.
Bilinda Butcher takes lead vocals on track 2, “only tomorrow,” a slab of unmistakable MBV bliss. Drums and bass are both back, and Shields’ guitar has rarely sounded as lovely and warm and fuzzy as it does here. I swear he must be using one of those pedals with a joystick to subtly screw his signal at a few points. The outro contains an extended lead guitar section which is almost unchartered territory for these guys.
The extremely slow glide guitar that introduces “who sees you” is a thing of utter beauty and it’s at this point that you realise that YES they are back and there is quite literally no one around who has sounded like these guys before or after. To some people this may sound like shit (“Sounds like a fucking power drill”), or not make any sense at all because it’s woozing in and out of tune, but this is pure MBV and it’s what they are all about and have always been about since 1988. Shields’ vocal low in the mix, unintelligble vocals, dentists drill guitar; it’s all there present and correct.Three tracks down, no radical departure, could almost be leftovers from Loveless. Right then, what’s next?
If David Lynch and Mark Frost finally decided to make series three of Twin Peaks then they’d have some perfect music for the Roadhouse in track 4, “is this and yes.” Imagine Julee Cruise replaced by Bilinda Butcher in 2013 and you’ll know what I mean. If not, then never mind. The Brixton show opener “Rough Song” shows up here as new you and represents a more upbeat, dancier direction for MBV with a lovely, lazy keyboard line floating above some seriously spacey Shields guitars panned wide in the mix. Butcher is back on lead vocal and has rarely sounded better.
The closing three tracks here are very exciting indeed and are hopefully pointers in the direction that MBV are likely to head in in the future. “in another way” begins with Butcher’s vocals and ferocious guitars following the same melody but then breaks down into a section that, on first listen, doesn’t really work, Shields playing a completely off-rhythm part consisting of what sound like heavily distorted harmonic notes while a keyboard part descends in the background. But on repeated listens this becomes one of the loveliest sections that MBV have ever recorded, and that’s saying quite a lot.This section thankfully reappears to close the track and is simply breathtaking.The ferociousness ramps up a notch on “nothing is,” which is unlike anything MBV have recorded before. Consisting of a simple repetitive guitar pattern, it builds and builds with a straightforward – if not exactly driving – beat underneath. It’s a very powerful three and a half minutes and if allowed to develop in a live situation could prove to be a punishing addition to their live shows. Album closer “wonder 2” is the legendary ‘jungle’ track Shields often mentioned in interviews in the ’90s and again is unlike anything they, or anyone else, has recorded before. It’s definitely the “To Here Knows When” on this record and while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of that, although to be fair not much does, it certainly is a stunning track filled to the brim with new sounds which will no doubt delight the MBV-loyal and haters alike.
“It sounds like a wind tunnel… It sounds like a plane taking off… Why does that guitar sound like a hoover? What’s he singing about anyway the twat?”
They’re not for everyone, admittedly, but it’s great to have them back.