A few hits of a solid, tight, crisp snare drum and we’re off to the races. What comes next changed the way so many people heard what a guitar could sound like and, if the volume was right, it could be the last time that someone heard anything at all. The opening ten seconds of Loveless are perhaps the most notable and some of the most influential seconds of the ‘90s. The direct hits followed by the epitome of swirling, shredding guitar that turned the indie rock on its head. The drums like a countdown to the fuse igniting and the guitars shooting off like dynamite. The legacy of My Bloody Valentine’s landmark sophomore record has been talked about at extensive length not only due to its significance on indie music, but also because of what didn’t happen next. It took the band over twenty years to follow through with a new record and the time in between birthed a mythical legacy unlike any other.
NME reported that the band had spent nearly £250,000 to make the album and bankrupt their label in the process. Shields supposedly felt that he was unable to translate his thoughts to his bandmates and instead recorded all of their parts on his own. Colm Ó Cíosóig fell ill and was unable to play drums so Shields feverishly looped pre-recorded drum fills until he was able to achieve his desired results. After hours and hours of studio wizardry and meticulous attention to detail to achieve an exact, precise sound, the album was released to favorable reviews and the band even set off on a European tour. However, in the years after its release, Bilinda Butcher, Debbie Googe, and Colm Ó Cíosóig quit the band and rumors swirled regarding Kevin Shield’s mental health. Still, he never stopped saying that a third album was on the way and slowly turned himself into lore until a cold night in February 2013 when he finally made good on the long-gestating promise.
One thing that is rarely regarded when it comes to Loveless is the lyrics. Buried so deep in the mix below the guitars, the majority of the album is unintelligible and the words are a complete afterthought. In fact, a major gripe of Shields' was that Butcher spent too much time on lyrics. However, for an album titled Loveless, there is one moment that sticks out as hopelessly romantic. “Show me all your favorite things, show you all mine too / Make a wish, I’ll give it all to you” calls out a voice on “Blown a Wish.” It’s a touching moment full of hope and joy, the feelings of young love and a specific time when the future seems limitless.
There are moments on the album where it’s hard to distinguish the guitar tones from the androgynous vocals that are layered throughout. Is this Bilinda? Or Kevin? Or is it actually a guitar that has been processed through more pedals and loops than I can possibly imagine? Part of the brilliance behind Loveless is just how mysterious it still sounds three decades later. I remember back in college explaining to a friend that everything was guitar, drum, and bass here and that these highly processed instruments resulted in some of the most sublime music ever recorded. Their mind was blown even today when I give it a spin, I’m amazed at what new things I still discover.
“Only Shallow” is the song that draws you in and the closest they had to a single at the time, but it’s truly an album that needs to be heard in full to really understand. It’s something that plays like a fever dream with cascading colors, hues, and psychedelic tapestries that permeate from the speakers as soon as you hit play and it’s easy to get lost in the swirls of guitar texture that envelope the room when played at the correct volume. It’s a record that you can get inside of and feel totally surrounded by the sound as you float in its warmth. The rolling drones are somehow inviting even with all of their power and force as lush vocals add further illusions of grandeur.
Shoegaze was known as a scene that celebrated itself, but MBV never really fit that description. Even after finally being able to see them live, there wasn’t as much downward shoe staring as I had been led to believe and watching Debbie Googe dig into her bass with such fortitude shook my entire notion of what I thought the band really was about on stage. Everything about them feels giant from the massive walls of sound to the way they conjure up such distinguished melodies that burst with gorgeous results.
There are moments when the guitar buzzes like a saw, jagged as all hell around the edges, but as the album cover suggests, it’s always warm and inviting. The rosy pink that is befitting of their name heightens the vibrance of the music and wraps it up in one beautiful experience. Even the blurred guitar image which barely breaks through the distortion of the cover hints at what the music sounds like: gauzy, smeared sonic textures that ripple out of the speakers like ocean waves of sound.
The volume and intensity might be too much to handle for some, but with the proper expectations, it can actually feel quite comforting. This music is intense, but never aggressive. For all the attention paid to the remarkable and unprecedented guitar work on the album, the percussion is also clearly worth a mention. It’s tight and never flashy and there are no solos on the album. Instead, the beats act to harness the guitars and rein in their power. Just when they feel as if they’ll relinquish control and let the shredding fly away to the heavens, the propulsive beats bring them back to the center and help establish the intricate rhythmic patterns that pepper the album. It’s easy to get lost in the cycles and sequences that are woven throughout and guess as to where each track may lead on the incredible sonic journey. While the “riffs” are what define each track, the drumming accentuates them in all the right places and the two play off each other, in concert, to create something grand and beyond expectations.
Every track is a bold statement and while “Only Shallow” feels like the thesis statement, everything that follows is of equal importance and adds more nuance as it progresses. On the first half, we’re treated to more drilling guitars that bite at the songs with gnarled teeth, but on the back side, we elevate towards more dream-like sounds where the edges start to blur and everything fuses together. “Come in Alone,” “Sometimes,” and “Blown a Wish” make the shift towards a transcendental euphoria, something that many other bands have tried to replicate, but never achieve. To me, this is where the album comes into its own and helps define what makes My Bloody Valentine My Bloody Valentine.
In celebrating the thirty years of this album’s existence, it’s now hard to think that we spent so much of that time waiting for a follow-up and that defined so much of Loveless’ legacy. When the band slowly disappeared in the mid-’90s, Shields was believed to have had a Brian Wilson type moment: obsessing over studio tweaks and minor details that would delay a follow-up for over two decades while falling out of the public eye for most of it. So, when the band finally did cash in on the reunion train and then the eventual third album, it begged the question of what would happen to the story of Loveless.
Turns out, not much. Even today with an impressive and very worthy follow-up, the legacy of My Bloody Valentine still falls on Loveless. Yes, m b v was way better than anyone could’ve expected and probably never stood the chance of living up the hype it followed, but Loveless and its aftermath will always be the first remarks when discussing the band. However, what m b v did teach us is that while so many bands built careers off of sounding like them, no one will ever sound like My Bloody Valentine and Loveless will forever be the defining statement of their career and one that will keep enticing fans back until here knows when.