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Loveless Review

by Dele Fadele

Recently, some deep-sea divers stumbled on an underground cave thousands of feet below sea level. Stalagmites, stalactites and mini-icicles greeted their brave entrance, almost too beautiful to behold. Once their dazzled eyes adjusted to the scene, however, they noticed intricate drawings of animals on the cave walls which, presumably, had been there years before the Ice Age, 200,000 years before Christ.

This is an analogy for My Bloody Valentine's return. Look beyond the instantly attractive "sound-kaleidoscopes" of Curve, Chapterhouse, Slowdive and a hundred others and you'll see the blueprint that predates them, the fountain of inspiration they've drunk deeply from.

With "Loveless" you could've expected the Irish / English partnership to succumb to self-parody or mimic The Scene That's Delighted To Eat Quiche, like Nick Cave's "Black Crow King" who surrounds himself with a chorus of followers and finds himself appeasing them with versions of their versions of himself. But no, "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.

The challenging thing about MBV is the way they force you to trip over yourself with mixed metaphors and, worse, when trying to quantify them with language. The frustrating thing is that they have no obvious information -political or otherwise - to impart. Kevin Shields and Bilinda are too busy serenading each other about private matters to let the world in on their sometimes lovelorn, sometimes suicidal, always sick words. You just hear echoes of words buried beneath monolithic obelisks of noises and silences, melodies and pummelled rhythms.

This is perhaps intentional. Maybe Kevin is reacting against a literary Irish heritage, perched above his head like the Sword of Damocles, by keeping his words to himself. But in times when children of conscientious objectors are forced to wear burning rubber tyres in black-on-black struggles in South Africa, when unionisation - which was hard-sweated and fought for - is being outlawed in humane Britain, My Bloody Valentine are vaguely saying f---all and encouraging others to follow suit. They maybe supreme poets of sound, the most inspired venturers beyond the precipice since Sonic Youth, but they still make you feel the same apprehension most people feel when their plane takes off, the same emptiness.

Those points duly noted, by any other criteria, this is a work of insane invention, sometimes moving beyond music as we know and sometimes loathe. At the cost of 250,000 (the studio threw a wild party when it was finished) and two years in the lives of Kevin, Bilinda, Colm and Debbie, it still sounds askew, sometimes necessitating you check your turntable for dust or speed, like Steely Dan's "Gaucho" (1,000,000) being gnawed at the entrails by anarchists and maniacs alike. When "Only Shallow" lures you in with aggressive bass and a hardcore feel, waxing and waning, you know nobody else is arrogant enough to sound like this.

But wait. It gets better. "Touched" shows how far you can get with one simple chord and loads of special FX, the guitars bounding around as if caught in a natural disaster. And "To Here Knows When" is possibly the strangest single ever to chart, Einsturzende Neubauten caught fornicating with Belinda Carlisle singing though a mouthful of cotton wool. "When You Sleep" has the first audible words which fade in and out of an ocean of rippling and sneering guitars, with repetition to the fore and what seems like two songs superimposed on top of one another.

My Bloody Valentine have disassociated themselves from dance music and reggae basslines, which will please some staunchly white-bread elements of their audience no end, but saddens me somewhat. "Soon" rides in on a hip-hop drum loop / beat but elsewhere the spectre of rock looms large. The trio of "Come In Alone", "Sometimes" and "I Only Said" define the current house sound with nagging melodies, guitars impersonating keyboards one second, power-drills the next, and fey vocals that seemingly revel in melancholy without hitting too many minor chords.

If Heavy Metal could seem sad and desolated, as if soundtracking a scene of carnage too gruesome to fix your eyes on, then its prototype would be here. When "What You Want" reprises this atmosphere but draws it out for tantalisingly long moments, you know My Bloody Valentine are stating the case for those who want to drop their samplers and get sweaty, as if dance was just a fleeting fascination.

Still, they have used the best technology there is, otherwise "Blown a Wish" wouldn't have you teetering on the edge of tears with what resembles a Philharmonic Orchestra gone off-kilter played on guitars and Bilinda's dreamy but impenetrable vocal tongue-twisters. When "Isn't Anything" came out three years ago, who'd have thought its perpetrators would've been held up to the light and worshipped for their carefully quilted patchwork.

"Loveless" ups the ante, and, however decadent one might find the idea of elevating other human beings to deities, My Bloody Valentine, failings and all, deserve more than your respect.

Looking from a hilltop. 8/10

Originally appeared in NME, 9 November 1991. Copyright © NME


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