This is a new monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

March 2010: My Bloody Valentine ‘Loveless’ (Creation Records,1991)

A combination of noise, Kevin Shield’s unique guitar sound, looped drums and sexually alluring buried vocals, ‘Loveless’, released almost 20 years ago, was hailed as the future of rock music by many critics who viewed it as leap into the great unknown. Alongside American contemporaries Dinosaur Jr. and Pixies, My Bloody Valentine (MBV) are seen to have reinvigorated rock music in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and upped the ante for the shoegaze scene.

They ruled over the genre as its most innovative band, pushing the envelope of rock music and volume of performances. The European tour that followed ‘Loveless’ was voted the second loudest ever in 2000 by Mojo magazine and their live shows have been branded as “criminal negligence” and likened to “the holocaust” by the music press.

‘Loveless’ took two years and 19 recording studios to complete and due to its mounting costs, suspected to have totalled £250,000, it almost bankrupted Creation Records forcing them to sell 50% of their shares to the Sony Music Company and allegedly made the label’s vice chairman Dick Green to go grey over night. Shields has always claimed that most of the sum was due to three years of living costs for the four band members not recording costs. Yet bills mount up once it is taken into consideration that most of 1989 was unproductive and the band had a difficult relationship with all but two engineers (Alan Moulder and Anjali Dutt) and much down time due to the ill health of Shields, vocalist/guitarist Belinda Butcher and drummer/engineer Colm O’ Ciosoig . Append this with non-existent organisation (writing lyrics during recording sessions) and communication (Moulder said “Kevin had a clear view of what he wanted, but he never explained it.”) and it becomes very expensive for Creation Records.

So how does the album stand up at nearly twenty years old? Listening to it again it appears to tolerate criticisms that were voiced at the time of release yet it frustrates and raises questions concerning its reputation. Upon its release NME journalist Dele Fadele reviewed the album and though full of glowing praise: “Loveless fires a silver-coated bullet into the future, daring all-comers to try and recreate its mixture of moods, feelings, emotion, styles and, yes, innovations.”, he was disappointed with their desire to disassociate themselves from the dance music influences and reggae bass lines he heard in their music. Conversely, Melody Maker’s Simon Reynolds’s argued Fadele’s observation declaring that “while My Bloody Valentine have amplified and refined what they already were, they’ve failed to mutate or leap into any kind of beyond.”

It could be stated that MBV only achieved creating the definitive shoegazing record. The album sounds like many of their contemporaries, the only difference being a manifesto that appeared to strive to create and redefine something beyond the music that existed before it. This is in line with Shields’ intention to make a studio album that moved the band forward but the idea falls apart on further investigation of the album’s recording process. For instance, because O’Ciosoig’s ill health meant he was unable to attend sessions drum loops were utilised. The vocals weren’t buried in the mix as a deliberate rebellion against the established rules of mixing rock music but because of Shields’ frustration at not being able to record a good vocal take of himself or Butcher. The bass lines are rarely audible and the drums are often overawed by the surrounding guitars and noise. Initially this feels odd but makes sense when you realise it took two years to make, though Shields insists that only four months were spent recording, and thirteen days to master, which usually takes 16 hours. The overall feeling is that though not a bad album, ‘Loveless’ is a missed opportunity owing to a long gestation period and Shields’ mistrust of engineers and poor organisation. Kevin Shields’ ambitious vision ultimately became his undoing.

So with a 2CD remastered reissue of ‘Loveless’ and their debut album ‘Isn’t Anything’ been  scheduled for re-release since they reformed in 2007 a question is raised: who has taken on the challenge laid down by ‘Loveless’?

The challenge I refer to, which is not what Shields’ intended, is to match noise and innovative guitar playing with current dance music production. The answer is complex, most artists who have cited MBV as an influence or have been compared to them have only taken  on the noise element and gone to the extreme. Yet there are some artists who have attempted the MBV formula. Manitoba (now known as Caribou) briefly flirted with it on a clutch of tracks from his 2003 ‘Up In Flames’ album and LA four-piece Health, who have melded MBV’s shoegaze sound to tribal rhythms and on their 2009 album ‘Get Color’ and remix album ‘Health/Disco’ employed dance beats and remix techniques to add a fresh dynamic. This echoes the final and most impressive track ‘Soon’ who’s breakbeat backing is clearly audible in comparison to the majority of the album. Health still frustrate though as they have yet to consistently deliver across a full album. Some tracks are either overridden by sludgy electric and bass guitars or disturbed by ear splitting feedback. Hopefully their evolution and the promise of a ‘Health/Disco 2’ album will finally fully embrace the challenge and fulfil the missed opportunity that is ‘Loveless’

‘Loveless’ has only managed to remain perceived as a classic due to the myths and reiterated reports of its status. It wasn’t a “silver-coated bullet into the future” but merely a stepping stone towards it. Let’s hope that bands present and future can snatch the baton of ideas and fearlessly run with it.

Spotify Playlist (HTTP link then Spotify Link):

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless