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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: STEVE DOUBLE

"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 Music, 1969

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 stay alive.

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? Probably.

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 better.

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 guarantees.

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.

"So why 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.

We 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!

This loose-fitting 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.

'Loveless' is 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.

They 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?

"No... we've 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. Being played.

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."

My Bloody 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!"

If 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, isn't it?

"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 meantime.

After all, the time is ripe. And 16 engineers can't be wrong.

Originally appeared in NME 9 November 1991
Copyright © NME


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