The Album List #18: My Bloody Valentine “Loveless”

It almost bankrupted the label. But then Alan McGee found Oasis.

Rock history is littered with perfectionist geniuses. Brian Wilson comes to mind immediately. But Kevin Shields, the mastermind behind My Bloody Valentine, holds a special place in the hearts and minds of music fans.  Because he nearly ended Alan McGee.

McGee founded Creation Records. A crucial label in 1980s Brit indie music, he signed MBV and Teenage Fanclub. He would later find and sign Oasis, but that didn’t help him after sinking a rumoured £250,000 into the two-year recording sessions for Loveless. Creation was in receivership when Oasis hit it big.  McGee would go on to be a general pain in the ass and political money man. But he signed this band, allowed them to make this album, and for once I’ll say Good on you McGee.

Shields was instrumental in solidifying the shoegazer sound, a deeply complex wall of sound style of multilayered guitar tracks, buried vocals, hidden percussive moments, nearly absent bass, all mashed together and distorted with sometimes way too much wah wah. He and co-vocalist Bilinda Butcher are almost nonsensical. The noise is overwhelming. But that is precisely why I love this album. It’s noise. Pure noise. And it’s still beautiful.

The melody is buried beneath the it all. It is there. Part of the fun is searching for it. Much like deciphering early R.E.M. lyrics, it’s a game only sad, pathetic music nerds like me play when we’re bored. I’ve listened to this album for twenty years. I’m sure I’, not even close to finding a straight up melody in this chaos.

It would be aggravating if it weren’t for the fact Shields was a brilliant guitarist. He creates these complex sounds that are compelling, like the “hook” in “Only Shallow”. The music is so dense that every nugget is rewarding. His guitars swirl, surround, hold you close, dump you over the cliff, and then stomp on your inner ear. It draws you in while desperately trying to escape your need to be there. Never has an album been so needy and still subject to avoidance. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition.

Despite Shields’ neurosis about the music, the lyrics, the critics, the album is almost universally loved by music geeks. I know I love how uncomfortable it feels at times, as well as the fact that there is an aspect of “I don’t give a fuck” that speaks volumes.  That is why, in spite of the fact I don’t understand a damn lyric, the music itself is all I need. It is strangely uplifting and life affirming  in the sounds on this record. In a way it’s the complete opposite of Suicide’s record, as Alan Vega and Martin Rev purposefully make their intentions known, and are very sparse and clear. Shields and company disorient, and force you to feel music.

It’s an album I cannot live without now. It’s the music of my meditation, my need to escape, and I find it more relaxing than whale music. I guess that’s what loving something so much does for you.



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