No 3. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
There is no other album like this in the vast catalogue of rock music. It is the most innovative album since the sixties, and one that, if you’ve never heard it before, will truly break down your ideas of how guitar music can be created.
1991 was a freak of a year for classic albums. For the rock fan there was Nevermind or Achtung Baby, for the dance enthusiast there was Screamadelica or The White Room, for the beard-stroker there was Blue Lines, and for the weirdo there was Spiderland. If you fancied some jangly g chords there were superb albums from REM, Teenage Fanclub and Crowded House and the deeply unfashionable but actually great Stars by Simply Red would sell 4 million copies.
Then came the one that was conceived by a musical genius who’s like hadn’t been known since the days of pantaloons and powdered wigs, a ground-breaking kaleidoscope of noise with smeared edges, distorted melodies and sleep-talked vocals.
Loveless was the album that famously, or infamously, took Creation records to the brink of bankruptcy, it was alleged to have cost a quarter of a million pounds to record, which for a scottish indie label in the late-eighties/early-nineties was absolutely absurd and would necessitate the signing of some bolshie rock ‘n’ rollers from Burnage two years later to save the label. Kevin Shields, the maestro, conductor and virtuoso of all the madness, told Creation boss Alan McGee that he could record the album in five days. In actuality he spent two years holed up in the studio getting stoned and playing pool, and it wasn’t until goggle-eyed waif rhythm guitarist Belinda Butcher joined the recording process that things got done.
It was worth it. This is some of the greatest music ever made. I first received this record as a Christmas present from my step-sister, and played it not knowing what the hell to expect. The opener, Only Shallow, is one of the most shocking opening tracks in all of rock. It starts with four sharp snare hits, the only distinctive sound on the entire record, then a noise that I would describe as… let me think… imagine being stood about fifteen foot from a Boeing 747’s engine as it took off, whilst two blue whales whistled at each other a few hundred yards away, and every half second a nearby tower block is detonated. This attempt to describe a track on an album shows me up for the hack that I am, but I defy anyone to describe it themselves. This unholy yet sickly sweet cacophony is then pulled round into a blissful post-coital, or post-narcotic haze-like verse, with murmured, barely comprehensible vocals about druggy sex or sexy drugs, before the row kicks in again. If My Bloody Valentine had only ever released this one song, their place in history would have been assured.
The fact that they went on to craft another ten tracks in a similar vein is nothing short of a miracle. For those of you who understand how the sound of a guitar can be distorted, it is astonishing to think that this music was made without the use of a single effects pedal, rather Shields swears it was all done with tone shifters and graphic equalisers, and repeated, ground-breaking use of the tremolo arm. Not since the early work of Lou Reed had a musician utterly corrupted his instrument to achieve the sound he was looking for. To Here Knows When, which was staggeringly the lead single, is a piece of music that defies any sort of convention. It consists of looping feedback, and, at least from what I can pick out, seven droning guitar tracks, a flute, a shuffly drumbeat and a vocal on which it is impossible to distinguish a single word. It is allegedly the track on which Shields, proving himself to be the musical equivalent of Stanley Kubrick, spent three weeks recording a tambourine part. It sounds like having your ear nailed to the wall while your neighbour is hoovering while singing along to the radio.
The fact that it is followed by When You Sleep, arguably the most conventional track here, is typical of this album’s contrasts. A great, needling, gliding riff compliments a lovely choppy chord sequence and a vocal of which you can actually recognize words, even though they don’t actually mean much: “When I look at you… oh…. (incoherent mumuring)”
It is not really necessary to remember song titles on this album, as all the tracks flow together into one neon-lit, belly-warming suite, and it is individual moments of the swirling symphony that stand out rather than whole songs. Where once, on the previous album, Isn’t Anything, the songs were aggressive, and in the case of No More Sorry, downright disturbing, here they are utterly blissful; the colossal swinging to-and-fro of the lead riff of I Only Said, the vocal refrain on Blown A Wish, where you have absolutely no idea what she is singing, but for some reason you just feel like hugging the nearest object to you; the sheer sonic pleasure of Come In Alone and What You Want, and the mind-boggling innovation of Soon, during which you realise that New Order had spent ten years looking for a sound that someone else achieved at a stroke.
And then, track eight, Sometimes. If my mother, wife, daughter or Martyn reads this article, please bear in mind that I want this song played at my funeral. Never has a human being extracted such emotion out of his chosen medium as Shields did in the latter half of this song. Just listen to it. Alone.
Best Tracks: Only Shallow, Come In Alone, Sometimes
Best Moment: 3:21-onwards in Sometimes: The most beautiful passage of guitar music ever committed to tape.
Like this? Try: There isn’t one.
Allen Miles is 32 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He’s got a new book out. It’s really good. http://www.tinyurl.com/disappear2014