My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless turns 25
Released on November 4th 1991, My Bloody Valentine’s final Creation release ‘Loveless’ featured sounds that no one had ever heard before leaving a legacy for a generation of bands to use as a blueprint.
An album that marked the end of the original shoegaze scene, a scene the band themselves were keen to distance themselves from.
The album wasn’t always ranked so highly, throughout much of the mid 1990s in the UK when Britpop was at its height and bands were ranked by chart positions and hype over musical quality, artists such as the Valentines and Slowdive were unpopular with the press due to their lack of willingness to play the game and their failure to break through to the mainstream. Press agents and journalists found their lack of conformity frustrating as it’s so much harder to get a headline out of a band who want the music to do the talking. Whilst any radio plugger trying to get My Bloody Valentine on daytime radio in the 1990s would have wasted their time.
The media first showed signs of this shift when the album was released in November 1991’s NME review of ‘Loveless’. “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.” Although the album was awarded a good 8/10 review, it missed the whole point of My Bloody Valentine’s music completely.
Andrew Perry’s review in Select Magazine understood the album much better and stated “It’ll prove too heavy for immediate sales power. In the long-run it’ll be one of 1991’s yardstick LP’s by which indie stragglers efforts will be judged.”
But what set the album apart from its peers? When engineer Guy Fixsen spoke to Fast Company last year he stated the bands attitude was “We’re going to do this exactly how we want to do this and screw everybody else.”
He goes on to state “Melodies were hugely important to him (Kevin Shields). In terms of recording, though, quality was the only thing that mattered; time didn’t matter. It was all about getting something right. It wasn’t like a lot of other records where you’re under pressure of time and money and you gotta get it done. There was time to really get into tiny, tiny details.”
Much has been made of the length of time it took to record Loveless, Guy Fixsen explains “We were recording a tambourine part for ‘To Here Knows When’ and we ended up spending an entire week recording just that one part.”
Another element that truly set the album apart from it’s peers are the use of samples. Fixsen states “Kevin Shields just wanted to make pop music, but in a different and new way. He was coming from 60s pop music, but there was a big nod towards hip-hop, and that’s where the sort of groove element of the record comes from.”
Mike McGonigal in his 2007 book about Loveless states only ‘Only Shallow’ and ‘Touched’ contain live drums from Colm Ó Cíosóig whilst the rest of the album contains samples of various drum patterns he recorded separately. Sampling was nothing new to the band though, they’d started experimenting with this many years earlier.
Shields goes on to state about the lack of guitars recorded “the guitar [is] smack bang in the middle and no chorus, no modulation effect, people were thinking it’s hundreds of guitars, when it’s actually got less guitar tracks than most people’s demo tapes have.”
The band toured the UK twice promoting the album, the second of those tour was as part of the Rollercoaster tour with The Jesus & Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr and Blur.
After the band finished touring Loveless in 1992 they disappeared with just a couple of tracks released on compilation albums. Rumours of Kevin Shields having become a modern day Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett started to add to the legacy of the band. Shields was by this time apparently living in a house with chinchillas for pets and sandbags blocking the doors.
Despite signing to Island Records, there would be very little output from the band for the rest of the decade. In 1998 Kevin Shields showed signs of his magic again by remixing Primal Scream’s ‘If They Move Kill Them’, also known as MBV Arkestra. This was seen by many as the first sign that there would be more material.
In 2000, Primal Scream released their groundbreaking album ‘Exterminator’ featuring Kevin Shields not only on the album but he was to become part of the live band. I remember the excitement many people felt of seeing him on stage again. At this time he also gave his first interview in years.
In 2004 Shields gave another interview to The Guardian as part of his promotion for his contribution to the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost In Translation’. In the interview he defends the cost of recording the album which the press had been stating was in excess of £250,000. “1991 saw not just huge outlays from Creation on Loveless but also on the label’s other key releases of the era such as Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque and Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. The financial price, has been overestimated – Screamadelica cost £130,000, Loveless maybe £140,000 – if not the emotional one. I’m the one,” he confesses, “who caused the most emotional damage.”
It was around this same time that the internet started shifting and blogging took off along the emergence of YouTube giving people the chance to share the My Bloody Valentine videos and a whole new generation where taught about the importance of the album.
Then in November 2007 the announcement arrived that the band were to tour again. The band sold out five nights at The Roundhouse in London followed by gigs around the globe, a chance for the band to play to all their new fans alongside their old following. In 2013 My Bloody Valentine released their third album m b v.
NME recently proclaimed Loveless “one of the most important albums of the last 60 years”, Rolling Stone featured it in the list of the ‘Greatest Albums of All Time’ whilst Pitchfork proclaimed it the 2nd best album of the 1990s. The Observer put it at number 20 in its “100 Greatest British Albums” list, declaring it “the last great extreme rock album.”
Kevin Shields was last seen on a BBC documentary the The Joy of The Guitar Riff.