My Bloody Valentine - m b v

20 years on and a house full of chinchillas later; we still need to talk about Kevin.

Rating: 8

Let’s be honest. Any record with a backstory akin to that of ‘m b v’ could take on a legendary status, without a note of the music really mattering.

Twenty or so years in the making. False starts, multiple promises over many years that it was almost finished. Alan McGee, whose label Creation had been near bankrupted by the band’s 1991 album, ‘Loveless’, swearing blind that he would never work with Kevin Shields again. His old boss telling the press that the My Bloody Valentine frontman had filled his home with chinchillas and barricaded himself in with sandbags and barbed wire. Shields taking the £250,000 advance from his new employers, Island, and spunking it all on a studio that he didn’t appear to be using.
The My Bloody Valentine frontman had filled his home with chinchillas.
Bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig left the band. Still, Shields insisted during a rare interview in ‘97, the record was nearly done. His new label appeared to have other ideas, and sensing that they would never hear the mythical third album, cut him off financially. It took four more years for Shields to be fully free from Island. And once without contract, he busied himself with Primal Scream and the ‘Lost In Translation’ soundtrack instead.

But when My Bloody Valentine got back together properly in 2007, the talk of this record began again in earnest. “I’d feel really bad if I didn’t make another record.” Shields said, “Like, ‘Shit, people only got the first two chapters, but the last bit is the best bit’.”

It took another five years before we got closer to ‘m b v’, though. Word came that whilst preparing both ‘Loveless’ and debut studio album ‘Isn’t Anything’ for their re-issues last year, Shields had listened again to the old sessions for the third album, at the same time. He’d come to a realisation; they weren’t bad. When he announced that it’d be out by the end of last year, after two decades, no one really believed him. Even when they claimed that they’d finished mastering at Christmas, entire records had been scrapped by Shields before, and there wasn’t anything to suggest that wouldn’t happen again.

When he mumbled onstage at Brixton during a January warm up gig that the record would be out within a few days; nice one Kevin, good joke. Come on, the chances of a release schedule being announced as a retort to a heckler; that’s properly ridiculous, isn’t it?

Except apparently, it wasn’t. Despite the fact that people had waiting for nigh on two decades, on its midnight release on a Saturday night, the world couldn’t wait a single moment longer; immediate website meltdown ensued. This is My Bloody Valentine after all, someone needs to shed tears of frustration…

Once we’d finished refreshing as though downloading these mp3s were Glastonbury tickets; there’s only one question left. Is ‘m b v’ a worthy follow up to ‘Loveless’? Is it actually that “best bit” that Shields promised?
MBV are not a band who should ever be quickly appraised.
Truthfully, it’s not something that you can make a snap judgement over; MBV are not a band who should ever be quickly appraised. Cast your mind back to when you first heard ‘Loveless’. It was batshit, right? Under the wrong conditions (in my case, a home made tape on a crappy car stereo), it made absolutely no sense. But given the right circumstances, the right volume (really fucking loud), the right format (not that tinny tape); that’s when the hairs on your arms stood up; the moment when you found yourself immersed in layer upon layer of sounds.

And after falling in love(less) with that record, isn’t it probable that anything that followed would be… well, a bit of a let down? It’s not like enough bands haven’t tried to ape that record too, and it’s not like they didn’t all pretty much fail. Who’s to say that twenty years on, Kevin won’t have forgotten how to do it, too? How can we be sure that in all that searching for perfection, this won’t be awful?

Hitting play on the ‘m b v’ opener, ‘she found now’ (remember, all song titles in lower case, kids - Ed) for the first time; it’s a fraught experience.

Perhaps that’s why Shields picked this particular track to start with - to soothe any initial worries. It’s not like you actually want an easy ride from a MBV album. It’s meant to challenge you. But whilst it’s strangely comforting that they’ve chosen to pick up at the precise point where ‘Loveless’ left off, it’s still not a comfortable experience, as bass and drums fight over hushed vocals.

For a few numbers, there’s no real letting up; provided you’ve cranked your headphones up to full and then some. ‘only tomorrow’ makes an early stake for ‘most likely to induce vomiting when played live’, as thunderous bass that you’ll hear via your ribcage as well as your ears competes with a genius guitar solo.

By the time we’ve got to ‘who sees you’, with a drum pattern that feels simultaneously lackadaisical and incessant, it already seems a little as though our eardrums have been assaulted. But whilst Shields has heaped sound over sound to build that wall, there’s more to this than an attempt to accelerate the onset of early deafness.

The swirling organs and gentle drums of ‘is this and yes’ feel like a respite, as they build and build around Bilinda Butcher’s beautiful ethereal vocal. It’s at this point that you notice something has shifted, that Shields clearly hasn’t just made the same record twice (although if he had, he’d have been teaching those copyists a bit of a lesson, anyway). Clearly, this is the end of the outtakes from ‘Loveless’, and the beginning of something rather different.

Kevin’s long been talking about the influence of jungle, electronic music, and even EDM on his work, and it’s at this point you sense its presence. Rhythmically, we’ve moved away from a slightly jazz infused time-pattern, and on to something much more methodical and repetitive. And where it works, it really works; ‘if i am’ is a great example. But there are times when it’s much less successful; ‘new you’ – previously referred to as ‘rough song’, after a description, rather than title, was put on the band’s set list at their warm up gig.
Is it better than ‘Loveless’? Probably not
The problem is that it’s… well, dated. For a band so adamant that didn’t want to be associated with shoegaze back in the nineties, it seems a bit weird that they’d have gone and recorded an essentially baggy number now. It’s not in Bilinda’s vocals, or the organs (although they’re probably not helping), it’s in that beat. It’s the first, and only, misstep.

Looking at it objectively, so far we’ve had some great tracks – albeit throwbacks to an album that’s twenty two years old - and a not so great track; but what we haven’t had is anything jaw dropping. Thankfully, the mad genius is still there, waiting to pounce as the last three tracks kick in. Industrial drums meet lilting keys on ‘in another way’, in a soundscape not too dissimilar to those created by Fuck Buttons. ‘nothing is’ opens with drumming that is little short of possessed, as sounds are looped and layered over the top of a pulsating beat. As the whole thing builds into a calculated, but mental, crescendo, your hairs are standing on end; until it suddenly stops and all you can do gasp.

By the time ‘wonder 2’ finishes with us, guitars competing with drums and a vocal ever-so-slightly reminiscent of The Beatles ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; if that had been filtered through the engines of a thousand jet planes, it’s exhausting. Glorious, but exhausting.

There’s clearly something here, there’s an evolution in what Shields is doing. But, is it any good? Yes. Is it better than ‘Loveless’? Probably not – and it’s unfair to compare it to a predecessor that we’ve had two decades to live with and love. Given its gestation, it perhaps suffers from being a less cohesive body of work. It doesn’t quite hang together as an album. But, who knows, ask us again in twenty years.