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The Excellence of Ecstacy


WHERE shall we begin? "When we first started we had this image thing, right, all Sixties haircuts and really setting out to do the pop band thing. It wasn't a joke, as such, but it was a perverse sort of humour that we tried to make it all grate in people's ears, so they were damaged by these nice songs played by a nice band. I suppose we were reacting against that tiny hip scene where everyone had short-back-and-sides, playing thoughtful little jangle guitar music, very polite andsafe. We just irritated people a bit, the way we looked, the noisy music... but you can't do that forever."

So What happened?

"We grew up."

MY Bloody Valentine, four waifs and strays from Dublin, sure don't look too image-obsessed at present - their frail figures, their black garb, wispy hair all over the shop, they could be any indie band you stumble over. They duck questions or mutter in a thick brogue my poor tape can hardly handle, sip fruit juice, try to talk about themselves and don't annoy me in the slightest. How people change.

First time I saw My Bloody Valentine, everybody was angry. They supported The Shop Assistants at London's Electric Ballroom, and they were dreadful: a nasty, shambling, linear blare of noise, an anti image, a sad racket. Like they said, it was a bad joke in a tiny context, making fun of C86/Primai Scream feyness by rolling in the mud. Nobody laughed. Thankfully, it was short-lived.

A few fair-to-middling feedback singles followed, and now we see the release of My Bloody Valentine's debut LP, "Ecstasy". It's no revelation, maybe, but it's a surprise; a series of aloof, pastel washes of sound, suspended guitars, words from the back of beyond tying in to a large, shifting whole. Larger than the sum of its parts, "Ecstasy" implies a band almost finding its feet, finding its way around. They may be one of the few recent indies bands to break through and gleam a little.

Naturally, not everything gells. My Bloody Valentine's search for glory is still a little measured, generic. Sounds which swish in right on the scripted moment and a correctly tasteful sleeve, plus approved lyrical concerns, imply they are set on the search for a dated "perfect pop". Debts are owed to The Jesus & Mary Chain. Love songs can ring a little too anaesthetically true. Yat "Ecstasy" is full of itself.

THERE are four Valentines: Kevin (guitar, vocals), . Debbie (bass), Bilinda (guitar, vocals) -and drummer Colm, who's resigned to being Colin in print. They're all very shy, self-aware people -- a sure mark of a current in die band - yet can enjoy talking about themselves, Kevin especially finding words and ideas. Chris Roberts made a perceptive comment about "Ecstasy", writing that it starts off with the standard recipe of mixing the Sixties and messiness, yet never quite realises its scope. A brave try. Are you annoyed by this?

"I hope it's more controlled noise than messiness," says Kevin. "And I wouldn't call it Sixties. All the bands I listen to are modem - Husker Du, the stuff they do, and even Suzanne Vega, those soft melodies. If it's Sixties it's because we're not based on rhythm'n'blues, like the Seventies stuff was, T Rex and so on. . ."

Maybe. Sixties pop at best sounds like it's based on pure air, and "Ecstasy" has moments of this. Yet what of the claim that "Ecstasy" is a little too poised, too knowing for true pop bliss? Is it a stab at classic pop?

"Most indie bands are tune-based, guitar hooks, but we try and base ourselves on noise," claims Kevin. "The greatest songs are what anyone could sing. Frank Sinatra could sing one of our songs, I reckon."

THE Valentine recipe is for gentle, buried vocals on a carpet of muted feedback, a warmth inside harshness. The whole of "Clair", a pop song, takes place on a sampled tape loop of screams from The Beatles live at the Hollywood Bowl, white noise from a clever source, and their titles imply a pop similarly folded inside itself; "(Please) Lose Yourself In Me", "(You're) Safe InjYour Sleep (from This Girl)". Are these just classic boy-meets-girllove songs?

"The songs may sound sweet, but the subject matter isn't necessarily very nice. A lot of it is relationship-based, but it's always vague, and never justboy-meets-girl. lt could cis easy be boy-meets-boy, or girl-meets-girl. Then there's hate, and whimsical thoughts you get from nowhere... ."

"It's more weird perversions of feeling you get in a relationship," says Colm, "Iike sado-masochism, where you want to hurt people for the sake of it. The best films or books we read are where there's total chaos going on, it's totally mad, and inside a love song that's what's going on. It's extremes, because we're entertained by extreme things, like trashy, cheaply done horror movies, really funny, things like necrophilia which come into your head. . ."

As sure as bees make for honey and Charlie Nicholas makes for the cross-bar, pop bands are drawn to these nebulous extremes. Talk of death, sex, torture comes easy, even if My Bloody Valentine's aloof swirl of sound wraps them here with allure. Yet if there is a sure precursor to your sound, when voices come crashing through feedback it could be The Jesus & Mary Chain. . .

Kevin: "They're a great band, and an influence, because when they came along it was all jangly guitar and out-of-tune vocal and they had this great overdrive thing, really exciting. But we've got a mini-LP we made in Berlin in '84, pre-Mary Chain, ... with all our traits there-feedback thrash. . ."

"Ecstasy", in its measured pleasure, doesn't equal the violence of textures of "Psychocandy", but doesn't need to. It' s a signpost toward the Valentine desire to move away from hook-based songs to juggling with noise, shifts ofsound and layers.

Kevin: "We've always wanted to do this. To startle people. Like, I saw Pussy Galore the other night, and it was incredible, brilliant. It left a real imprint on me. Then there's American hardcore bands using melodies like we're trying to, powerful bands like Dinosaur or World Domination who sound like thrash and aren't. That's where I'd like us to be. If it wasn't so posey, I'd say that what we want is for people to just be themselves in us."

Can My Bloody Valentine, four tender urchins from Ireland, move from shy indie status to so possessed. and blessed a racket? "Ecstasy" has a handful of moments, a breath of ideas, a glimpse of a noise. A start.

Originally appeared in Melody Maker January 20, 1988
Copyright © Melody Maker Magazine


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