World War Skreeeee!
The return ofthe prodigals! Three years, £250,000, 16 engineers, a dopey
battalion of blissedout imitators. . . it really is time for MY BLOODY
VALENTINE to make their comeback. ANDREW COLLINS wheedles a
few precious words from the patron saints of shoe-gazing. Clingfilm stars:
"It was a sign of the times that, in mid-I954, David Whitfield's 'Cara Mia'
occupied the Number One spot;n the hit parade for ten successive weeks!
Clearly, pop music desperately needed a shot in the arm - a stimulus to
boost it out of the rut into which it had sunk, and to lend new impetus to a
flagging industry. The time was ripe!" Derek Johnson, author of Beat
Rock music is dead. Long live rock music. 1991 is either the most exciting
time to be writing about and listening to music ever; or the equivalent of
being stranded on a desert island with nothing but three cases of heroin
for company, and painlessly getting round to eating your own hands to
The latter image is not mine. I stole it from a Stephen King short story,
Survivor Type. What else can you do in the 1990s? Contemporary culture
can only exist as a melting pot now - punk and hip-hop were the last two
musical genres that redefined rather than simply reshuffled, and their
combined influences made the 180s a vibrant mix 'n' match; a multiracial
celebration; a vintage decade for the sheer possibility of pop, and
chances are you grew up in them. You (and I) know no better. The '90s
opened with a musical bang last year we saw the Mondays and The
Charlatans handle the great Madchester follow-through, The Farm go Top
Five, New Order make the best football single ever and Ride put Creation
back on the map - but this effort has been dwarfed somewhat by spiralling
world events. If Jimi Hendrix provided a crazy, out of control soundtrack
for a lot of confused, doped-out kids sent by The Man to Vietnam in the
'60s, who was on theWalkman during the Gulf War? MC Hammer?
Suffice to say, if, as Derek johnson claimed, 1954 needed a kick up the
ass to save it from doom, what kind of last minute nuclear electrocardio
therapy is going to jolt post-Bryan Adams 1991 back to life1 The year's
almost over - and still no Stone Roses, Shaun Ryder's shot to hell, New
Order have turned into three New Order covers bands, Morrissey's on the
end of some imagined pier somewhere, erm, still no Stone Roses -I
repeat, 1991 IS ALMOST OVER! And who is going to change my mind
that the past ten months have been the worst on record (literally) for this
non-stop adrenalin-rush we call Our Music?
Chicane? Top? Spirea X? Babes In Toyland? The Belltower? 2 Live
Crew? The Popguns? Nine Inch Nails? Intastella? Blur???? Pah! None of
these time-wasters are fit to turn the pages of my copy of The Rolling
Stone Story for me as I read about Altamont and Haight-Ashbury and
those far-off days when music journalism meant being there, catching the
ripples as a genuine youth groundswell fuelled by war and paranoia and
drugs united The Kids against The Man and there was gloom and fury
and madness. Sort of like the very antithesis of listening to a Lush record.
Tick tick tick. Zero Hour approaches. If we accept that rock music in those
terms is dead and buried and danced upon, what about rock music under
these terms - Pet Shop Boys make beautiful music without guitars, Carter
do likewise without a drummer, there is no difference - who's going to
supply that shot in the arm NOW?
My Bloody Valentine? Well, no actually, but while we wait, please let it be
My Bloody Valentine who make the background NOISE? Nobody does it
A DISGUSTING thing is happening on the telly. Some cackling cabaret
deadbeat is dressing up cockatoos as famous people - Sherlock Holmes,
Elvis, Michael Jackson. This involves clipping readymade costumes
around their necks and strapping the legs to them. The studio audience
applauds. Jonathan Ross grins along with this clearly cruel and simple
minded sideshow, but then his is to be famous, not to reason why. I am in
what now amounts to a waiting room. Waiting. There's tea in a mug and a
TV remote in my hand, I am happy. The My Bloody Valentine group are
late because they're doing a photo session for Sire, who put out their
records in the States. Creation put them over here.
Now, some would observe that putting out My Bloody Valentine records i
not a back-break operation. In this restless,
ever-shifting, highIy competitive pop marketplace, you have to bring out
'product' quickly, if not imdeiately, if not yesterday. And then follow it up
the day before, lest the public forgets. Ponder your next move out
in the wilderness for too long and The Charlatans will rush in and
steal your seat, right? Who remembersThe Monk Turtles? Whatever
happened to The Soup Dragons? Birdland? They Might Be Giants?
Chapterhouse? One thing that's guaranteed in pop is that there are no
Hence, with only one EP this year, one Iast year, and sod all the
year before, MBV are not exactly playing career-by-numbers. Indeed,
since their last, groundbreaking LP 'Isn't Anything' in 1988, the
metaphorical Charlatans have come thick and fast.
Three years isn't just a long time in pop music,
it's a long time in time. My Bloody Valentine now find themselves, perhaps
unenviably, in the same position as U2, Guns N' Roses and The Stone
Roses they are the proud parents of a LONG AWAITED album.
wait?" asks the sort of ulcer-bound dumb-bell who runs down moving
escalators and cuts you up at the lights. Well, maybe it's because, as
MBV main artery Kevin Shields puts it, "Our records always make a lot
more sense years later". Maybe, despite appearances, My Bloody
Valentine are stars. Either way, we have all been in what amounts to a
waiting room for three years. The EPs were fine - 'Glider' in April 1990
had us all a-quiver with its dignified dance experiment 'Soon'; 'Tremolo' in
Feb '91 offered a distinctly lighter vibe - but the Valentines are a
frustrating prospect over four tracks. Their music is not easily appreciated
in neat sound-bytes, it needs room to bleed.
'Isn't Anything' actually
captured My Bloody Valentine, at one with themselves after many years
of indie-ing about, but clearly at odds with the outside world. It was almost
surgical; bright light, antiseptic surfaces, cut-throat
blades of sound. An all-pervasive
vagueness haunted, from the bleached-out sleeve image to the
non-committal song titles ('No More Sorry', 'You Never Should', 'Nothing
Much To Lose'). It was nothing short of a masterwork.
Amazingly, it still
makes a dishrag of the competition today. And there in lies the crux.
waited. Ride didn't. Siowdive didn't. Chapterhouse didn't. The
Telescopes didn't. The Boo Radleys didn't. In fact, SO MANY bands took
a cue from 'Isn't Anything' and enrolled in this heads-down Anti-Rock
Student Dirge Thang, the press had to claim massive overtime while they
thought of an apt new genre-name. The Murmuring Bands? Not bad.
Post-Rave Comedown? Close. Shoe-gazers? BINGO!
taxonomic heading now embraces any and every sort of indie guitar
band who neither jangle nor groooove - ideally, four Home Counties poshos
with the problem of arock hair band but none of drama. Or tunes. Or
expertise. And it's all My Bloody Valentine's fault. They have spawned
a thousand pale imitators, and, boy, do we need them back.
here to atone for Moose. And for that we should string up bunting, light
sparklers, bob apples and declare a public holiday. For if the long-awaited
My Bloody Valentine album isn't the stuff of new heroes, or a supplier of
world solutions for world problems, or any kind of total media package for
these hungry times, it does at least bring back some semblance of sanity
to a scene gone awry.
Let us hope shoe-gazing dies with its boots on. In
World War Skreeee, there are no prisoners.
A DISGUSTING thing is happening right here. I am suddenly a ringmaster
from Hell, and my job is to dress up My Bloody Valentine as famous
people. This involves asking them trite questions, chasing them through
hoops, a process which has little to with their job - making albums in three
years - but one at which many of their contemporaries are experts.
hate it. Their hatred of it is pop folklore. Kevin Shields fields the
inquisition, his three Bloody compatriots, Colm O'Ciosoig, Bilinda Butcher
and Debbie Googe, merely fill the available sofa, rustle takeout pizza
boxes and suck Sol. They're saying nowt. What Kevin is saying, he is
saying softly, softly. Whilst a My Bloody Valentine record can strip paint,
summon forth demons, perform appendectomies and change the
weather, My Bloody Valentine have difficulty filling the gap between two
sets of inverted commas.
So I start with an easy question. Have you
single-handedly bankrupted Creation then, OR WHAT?
spent ten times less than other bands. . . a chunk here, a chunk there. . .
we're ridiculously expensive in some ways, but extremely inexpensive in
others. . . it's studio time. . . we spent ages doing things that never
worked, and that's where the stupid money went. .."
What Kevin is trying
to do here, with his tongue tied behind his back, is deny the reported
£250,000 sum of recording costs currently perched upon My Bloody
Valentine's head. Fat budget rumours are bound to surface when a band
takes three years to make an LP. But is it important?
No; the important
thing is to bury your preconceived picturee of Creation's only priceless signi
-for-nothing, unprofession whose grubby hands AIan McGee's folding money
mysterinishes in a puff of illegal-smelling smoke.
I fully expected MBV to be shy, unsensational types (the Cocteau
Syndrome - interesting music, boring people), what I wasn't prepared for
was Kevin Shields' ardent interest (and subsequent knowledge of)
business affairs. Notebooks out, Swervedriver?
"We know more about how the record industry works than
our record company half the time!" he exclaims, unloudly. "We do. I'm not
joking!" Far from being blissfully ignorant of Where The Money Goes,
MBV have evidently put a lot of thought into the financing of their
forthcoming (long awaited) dates. Depressingly, they don't see how they
can break even.
"The only way you can make money from touring is to
have a shit PA and not very good lighting. T-shirts can make money, but
I'm very dubious of all that business. Venues have a say in both T-shirts
and security, and I'm also very worried about the security thing. "I know
exactly what's going on in the security world, we were lucky enough to
talk to someone who worked for (A Well-known Gig Security Firm - Legal
Ed) for a long time. These guys are paid peanuts, basically - £3 an hour
at (one London venue) - and they're all out of their brains on steroids! For
that sort of money you're not going to get the kinda people you need to
look after 3,000 punters.
"Every other cost at a gig goes into thousands of
pounds, security's only a matter of hundreds - and that really
bothers me. What can we do about it?" They've already arranged to pay
for their own travelling Head Of Security to 'oversee' things, and even
considered slipping security staff an extra wad to ensure that they treat
Valentines fans with care. But this scheme, as they have quite rightly
spotted, could set a precedent whereby bouncers 'bribe' other bands.
(Give us an extra tenner each or the kids get it). Solutions on a postcard
please, but in the meantime, . here's Kevin on some other aspects of the
biz. FIrst, singles. . . "We've put out ourl ast single forever," he woefully
reveals, "I just can't see us putting aut another one. Maybe we'll put out
4O-minute records released as singles, but give all the tracks the same
title, to comply with Gallup's restrictions. 'Tremolo' had seven tracks on it,
but you're not allowed to do that, so we called it four tracks and didn't
name three of them. People just thought they were weird bits!" Hello,
Mark Goodier! Remember the embarrassment when you played one of
the 60-second 'ghost tracks' off 'Tremolo' earlier this year, by mistake, due
to the 1234 digital calibration of the CD format? Ha ha. My Bloody
Valentine are cleverer than everybody.
And they're not joking.
PORE OVER the sleeve artwork for 'Loveless'. It won't take a minute,
since The Senseless Things or Public Enemy they ain't. Yes, it's kind of
dreamy, unfocused, there are fuzzy swathes of pink and there's no sign of
the title anywhere (Hey! Art!). Most of the actual copy is a list of the 16
engineers who worked on the album (that's five more than even Guns N'
Roses got through!), but underneath the words and the credits and the
photographic after-effects, there is an image. It is the fretboard of a guitar.
Cloth-eared folk imagine My Bloody Valentine ill-suited to
radio because they are Just A Lot Of Bleedin' Noise. Wrong.
It's all in the frequencies!
Erm. . .
"I've put more high frequencies into this record, because
we've never done that before."
So 'Loveless' will sound better in the car?
"Yeah. Or at least, it means it won't sound that different."
Valentine have sold out! Official! The Man has got their lowermiddle
frequencies? The point is,
Kevin Shields cares. He didn't want Creation to send out any pre-release
material on cassette due to the inferior quality of said medium(they did, of
course); if he had his way, MBV wouldn't even come out on vinyl at all, the
CDs would sound a whole lot better too!
Their music may sound like the collected confidence tricks of a thousand
circuit boards; special effects on the scale of Total Recall that have about
as much to do with the plectrum as your Nintendo Gameboy- but
that's because My Bloody
Valentine are cleverer than everybody.
"All of our so-called 'effects' come
from playing the guitar!" is Kevin's - for him - impassioned statement.
"We are the antithesis of all these bands who are so called 'influenced'
by us! I don't like flangers and chorus pedals! In the studio, there's only
one type of reverb and it's used on two songs on 'Loveless'. And on one
of them you can't really hear it! People think it's all pedals, but all my
pedals are graphic equalisers and tone controls. It's all in the tone!"
Kevin Shields yelled and grabbed you by the lapels, he'd be doing it now.
So, we have established that My Bloody Valentine are better than all
other My Bloody Valentine bands because of the tone - but this does lead
us to the crucial thing that's missing, the link between the beautiful,
guitar-based noise that makes 'Loveless' such an exquisite listening
experience and, well, reality. It's not begging anyone to get up and
change the world is it? It's microuniverse-in-your-head insulation music,
"I bet, if you played the first side anywhere at a loud volume.
people would say 'What the f- is going on? I can guarantee that. It's not
music that makes you want to change the world, because when we were
making it, the world changed! When you're watching the world change,
you don't make records like the Manic Street Preachers. You don't!
Rumania, the Berlin Wall, the
Gulf War, Russia-and then we finished our album! We made it in that
context! I've never heard any rock music that would reflect that! No speed
metal, no nothing!"
"THE NEXT album'lI take a year!" promise My Bloody Valentine as one
(literally), dreaming of their own studio and a CD-only world and no more
interviews or photos ever again.
By that time, perhaps pop music will
have woken up to the bloody battle against complacency and corporatism
ahead. Yes, the cavalry are saddling up as we speak - Kingmaker,
Nirvana, the Manics, Fabulous - but let's be truly thankful that My Bloody
Valentine have blown away some of the walking wounded in the
After all, the time is ripe. And 16 engineers can't be wrong.
Originally appeared in NME 9 November 1991
Copyright © NME