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Monday, February 11, 2019

My Bloody Valentine: MBV


1) She Found Now; 2) Only Tomorrow; 3) Who Sees You; 4) Is This And Yes; 5) If I Am; 6) New You; 7) In Another Way; 8) Nothing Is; 9) Wonder 2.

General verdict: A respectable and enjoyable attempt to reproduce and refresh the old formula, but comes nowhere near the magic charm of its predecessor.

Had My Bloody Valentineʼs third album been released hot on the heels of Loveless, it might have gone down in history as a solid follow-up, not breaking any particularly new ground but further consolidating and developing the bandʼs vision — a Magical Mystery Tour on the heels of their Sgt. Pepper, or a Day At The Races to match their Night At The Opera. Instead, Kevin Shields accidentally happened to drop through a wormhole, and emerged exactly twenty-two years later: an enigmatic disappearance that fascinated the critics for a brief while, but ultimately condemned the record to the status of a historical curio.

In between Loveless and MBV, the band had had ample time to tour, chill out, procrastinate, stall, stagnate, break up, reunite, tour some more, chill out some more, and find ways to cope with the mental problems of its leader — but almost none of that seems to rub off on the final product. In fact, I am not exactly sure if there is anything that rubs off on the final product. It clearly benefits from the advantages of 21st century production, but apart from that, it does not seem to owe any debts (at least, not major debts) to any of the contemporary musical genres or scenes. It just feels like a very natural, subtle evolution of MBVʼs sound that picks up exactly where Loveless left off and gently nudges the wheelbarrow just a tad further.

The tad in question is significant, though. On the whole, MBV is slightly less about hallucino­genic treatments of pop melody and more about the power of amplified, distorted drone. Cases where you get offered a sharply pronounced melodic riff, like ʽSoonʼ, are few, if any at all; in their place we usually witness violently strummed single chords, so that MBV ultimately is much closer to the ideal of «shoegazing» than its genre-transcending predecessor. This new — some might same lazier — approach, fortunately, does not apply to vocal melodies, most of which are still written in the finest traditions of melodic dream-pop and still faithfully feature Kevin on the outside and Bilinda on the inside, with the desired «androgynous» effect. Without the vocals, however, the music suffers: cue ʽNothing Isʼ, an odd instrumental that madly thrashes in place for three and a half minutes, like an enraged stallion galloping on the spot because the reins keep holding him back. For the first twenty seconds, it is cute; by the second minute, it has become annoying, by the third, unbearable. Perhaps they should have extended it by ten minutes, like ʽYou Made Me Realiseʼ — at least, that way it would be a statement and a psychological test. As it is, it is just three and a half minutes of wasted space.

What I do like about the record, though, is that it takes time to develop and gradually evolve. Loveless was essentially static: the formula was set in motion with the very first track and went on unhindered until the very end. MBV is less straightforward. The first couple of songs are very Loveless-like in style. ʽShe Found Nowʼ opens the album with expected layers of jangly and distorted guitars, smooth waves of feedback crackling atop your ceiling, and Kevinʼs vocals smoking out the window; ʽOnly Tomorrowʼ melds jangle and distortion in a single tone that goes along well with the accompanying romantic falsetto; ʽWho Sees Youʼ is like a hive of genetically engineered electric bees swarming around your head, with several additional hives gradually joining in at select intervals.

But none of these three songs are really on the same level with the best that Loveless had to offer; with all those guitars droning on rather than being dynamically melodic, you could suspect that this stuff might appeal to fans of stoner rock rather than people who, like myself, were won over by the ability of Loveless to combine overwhelming noise with lovely pop melody. And for me, therefore, MBV truly only begins to redeem itself by the time its fourth track comes along. ʽIs This And Yesʼ breaks with the formula by introducing keyboards into the mix — not modern-sounding keyboards by any means, but an old-fashioned organ sound filtered through some of Shieldsʼ filters, hypnotically wheezing through your ears on its own before it becomes completed with Bilindaʼs friendly ghost vocals. This is totally MBV in nature, but technically it is very different — one might even suggest a Beach House influence, except I am pretty sure that they would have been quite capable of coming up with this sound on their own.

From there on, subtle surprises come incessantly. ʽNew Youʼ is unexpectedly funky, bouncy, and sparsely arranged for MBV, except that whatever guitar and bass and vocal sounds there are, they still wobble and fluctuate like crazy — this is what Blondie may have sounded like if somebody came up with the idea of putting them on acid. ʽIn Another Wayʼ begins with a brief snippet of almost King Crimsonian guitar cacophony before settling into a much more familiar paradigm, yet even then the main melody is carried by an oddly bagpipe-like tone with strong Celtic over­tones (the band suddenly remembering their Irish roots?). And the closing ʽWonder 2ʼ takes a serious risk — it may be as close as they ever came to the edge of equating melody with total sonic chaos; although there is a definite rhythmic backbone and melodic structure, there is so much flanging and phasing that you may feel yourself being blown out of the little piggyʼs house by all the huffing and puffing. Not sure if I am a fan of that, but I appreciate the teasing.

That said, I will be cruel and state that MBV is not Loveless, because at times it tries too hard to be Loveless (and fails), and at other times it tries too hard not to be Loveless, and still fails. Some of these tracks are sonically very interesting, and some are quite lovely, but twenty years is a long time, and the magic cannot really be rekindled. There is a lot of atmosphere, for sure, but not nearly enough substance: I miss the strong melodic hooks that were such great fun to dig out from underneath the sonic rubble of Loveless — here, with cleaner production, the rubble is easier to remove, but the findings are comparatively disappointing. All of the stylistic experimentation and all the attempts to find new ways to apply the MBV formula are very welcome, yet I am afraid that lightning wonʼt really strike twice this time. 


  1. I don't agree at all with your assessment that you had to dredge Loveless for hooks, but you've hit the nail on the head that mbv (the album) is relatively weak in that department.

    I think the larger problem with mbv is how lethargic the album feels. Compare their opening tracks. "She Found Now" is so long, so slooooow, and so... tuneless? No, not really, there _is_ a melody there, but it undeniably drags. Compare with "Only Shallow" and that unforgettable opening - four snare hits, then the fireworks, all underpinned by that badass four-chord riff. (That Loveless/Nevermind comparison you made works on a non-symbolic level too; I could be talking about "Smells Like Teen Spirit" here.) Not that I don't dig drone, and not that Loveless didn't drone, but there's gotta be something above or below it.

    IMHO, anyway. Plenty of hipster critics love interminable noisescapes, because they're "avantgarde" (lol) and therefore cool. That's definitely why MBV (the band) have had such a critical legacy relative to their "frivolous" contemporaries: they don't require you to admit you're listening to get those warm fuzzies. You can listen to Loveless for the warm fuzzies, or you can crank Loveless up to 11 and blow out your ears. With mbv, you can do the latter but not really the former.

    So in short, mbv's problem isn't that it fails at being Loveless (the album) but that it succeeds at being loveless (the emotional state). You know what I mean?

    1. Dear Quiara, after so many years if you don't have anything new to say it will inevitably fall short. Same old, same old.