Their CDs are round and their cassettes are rectangular, but that's about all My Bloody Valentine has in common with anyone else making records these days. Together since 1984, this Irish-British quartet has been steadily reshaping the contours of contemporary music in the U.K. Now, American audiences have an opportunity to share in the disquiet, as My Bloody Valentine releases its first full-length Sire/Warner Bros. album in the States, Loveless.
My Bloody Valentine consists of guitarist/singer/songwriter Kevin Shields, drummer Colm O'Ciosoig, bassist Debbie Googe and guitarist/singer Belinda Butcher. But like all good bands, the total is greater than the sum of its parts. Their music has been described as "beauty under siege" by one admiring critic; "the sound of an everyday netherworld" by another. Yet none can say for sure what MBV is all about, not even group leader Kevin Sheilds. "To be honest, we don't really know what it is we're doing," he told NME last year. "We're never sure how things will turn out." He's being a bit modest. With their stinging guitar-charged foundation, convulsive rhythms and enigmatic sense of melody, MBV can be counted on to challenge all pop conventions, which is precisely what they do on Loveless.
From the opening measures of "Only Shallow," the album's first track, Loveless presents a very different approach to music. Lyrics are indistinct; emotions,as in real life, murky and convoluted. On the thickly layered "To Here Knows When" and the Steve Reich-flavored "I Only Said," MBV created clashes of sound and fury. Throughout, Kevin's and Belinda's vocals are mixed low to form another brick in the wall of sound.
Songs like "Sometimes," "Loomer," "Soon" and "What You Want" typify MBV's sumptuous ambiguity. In fact, regarding "Soon," no less an authority than Brian Eno said, "It set a new standard for pop. It's the vaguest music ever to have been a hit." Other songs like "Touched," "Blown A Wish" and "Come In Alone" support Kevin's contention that "each song is a small victory...our music reflects an attitude of uncompromising strength yet, at the same time, a fragile sense of uncertainty."
There was nothing uncertain about Kevin's determination to create a band of substance back in Dublin, circa 1983. Teaming with Colm, he formed a variety of bands before settling into My Bloody Valentine in 1984. They quickly became one of the most popular bands in the thriving Dublin music scene. Rather than head to London, MBV took the unusual route of heading for the continent. They released their first EP, This Is Your Bloody Valentine, in Berlin in 1984. In 1985, they finally did head back to London where Debbie hooked up with the band. A succession of EPs ensued, including Geek (1985), The New Record By My Bloody Valentine (1986) and Sunny Sundae Smile (1987). At that time, Bilinda joined the band and the line-up was complete. Two more releases, Strawberry Wine and Ecstacy, soon followed.
MBV hooked up with Creation Records in 1988, releasing two more EPs that year, You Made Me Realise and Feed Me With Your Kiss, as well as their first album, Isn't Anything. In 1989, the band toured Europe and the U.K., and made brief but memorable forays to the U.S. Their greatest chart success came in 1991, with both a Top Ten ("Glider") and a #1 record on the British charts (the EP Tremolo, which contained earlier mixes of songs on Loveless).
Though MBV at times makes use of gray tones, Kevin hopes most listeners will view their music as decidedly upbeat. "The times are more open to our kind of music than they were five years ago," he says. "People need music with a sense of optimism, yet with an undercurrent of disorientation." Anyone hearing Loveless will comprehend what he means, but the disorientation doesn't last. My Bloody Valentine truly points to a positive new direction in popular music.