My Bloody Valentine's comeback, mbv, wasn't worth the loveless wait
Art by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
Genius is a hard thing to live up to; once someone bestows you with its thorny crown, it's a crippling burden that can sometimes make you even more the stuff of legend. My Bloody Valentine is that stuff of legend.
1991 was a time both namby and pamby, with New Jack swinging in one corner and Bryan Adams trying very hard to sound earnest in another. The radio had become a stagnant pool of dullsville dilapidation. What was once cutting-edge was now being played in popular discos, and the guy from Depeche Mode became the self appointed personal Jesus for a generation of aesthetic atheists. The just-burgeoning techno culture began having mainstream chart success and everything that once seemed razor-sharp seemed a little bit softer, a little bit safer.
That is until My Bloody Valentine released Loveless.
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Not their first record, but definitively their best. After hearing that record, nothing else quite sounded right. It was likethe John Carpenter movie They Live when Rowdy Roddy Piper gets a pair of special glasses that lets him see the alien messaging hidden in everything. Loveless was like that. Suddenly you knew that everything had gotten safe and secure and marketed for our protection; suddenly you knew that soylent green was people.
There was, of course, that group Nirvana who released Nevermind two months earlier, but being that this is a Minneapolis paper -- or at least a Minneapolis paper's collection of 1's and 0's -- we have to know that grunge was different here in the actual music community. Grunge was a nice marketing term for what had been happening here for years with Soul Asylum and the Replacements. Time might soften the harshness but it was there, it was another case of "we had it first." In fact, a trend (I think started by Ed Ackerson, at that time of the 27 Various) was to wear striped shirts instead of plaid as a response to the Seattle invasion. If grunge was music for the people, then shoegaze was music for the music snobs.
It has been 22 years since the last full-length release from My Bloody Valentine. MBV's sound was fiercer than punk rock. It was just noise; this was a blitzkrieg of beauty that invaded the subconscious. There were other bands that had a pronounced love of feedback, like the Velvet Underground, the Cure and the band boys of 1985, the Jesus and Mary Chain, but none of them sounded like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. It was a sonic revelation, a genuine beauty, dark and inviting; a cozy cave of fuzzed-out transcendence. It was the cassette played on boomboxes of the miscreants of heaven.
The thing is, the follow-up to the legendary is always fraught with difficulty. It drove Brian Wilson to the point of insanity with the never-ending making of Smile, the Camelot of records existing only in legend. Ditto Phil Spector: once he made "River Deep, Mountain High" with Ike and Tina, there was no space left in between for him. And of course there is the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of all follow ups: Chinese Democracy. Guns N' Roses follow up to their prior monster success, that took 15 years and $13 million, or approximately $2374.43 a day. It sold 2.6 million units, or to put it another way, they could have given away that many units and included $2 in each and still come out ahead. Michael Jackson had the same thing happen to him with Bad. Thriller sold 42.4 million copies, whereas baby brother Bad came in at a mere 16.7 million, becoming the first record to sell more than Sgt. Pepper's and still feel like a total flop.
Loveless, like most of the records that stand the test of time, sold not all that many, but almost everyone who bought it seemed to form a band, and a band that counted MBV as an influence. They may not have been the first "shoegazer" band, they were however the quintessential one.
Loveless became Pet Sounds, Led Zeppelin III, and Avalon all in one to a generation that fell out of the mainstream alternative that had become grunge, and worshiped at the altar of Curve and Lush. It was a worship that as time passed would morph to things that only cited that drone as an influence, making it the precursor to the next wave of brat pop. A tour with Dinosaur Jr. and Babes in Toyland cemented MBV's place in the pantheon; they were sonic demolition experts that shook the earth with their Marshall cabinets and made the likes of Napalm Death seem like a fat kid pretending to be a Jedi warrior.
Then a funny thing happened -- or rather didn't happen. They signed to a major label (Island), spent a rumored $500,000 on a record that never appeared. The band never broke up, but they never did anything. A song here, a song there; Kevin Shields did some work on the Lost in Translation soundtrack, but nothing more than blips on the pop culture Doppler. Nothing till 2008, when they did some big festival show including a Shields-curated All Tomorrow's Parties fest. There were rumors that the record they had started in '96 was almost three-quarters of the way finished.
Last week, boom: the band that rarely had news was full of it. A record coming out soon soon became immediately as it was almost spontaneously released on Groundhog Day at 11:58 pm as a download, with options for vinyl and CD. The climax that had been building up for 22 years came out as a premature ejaculation, complete with server crashes, a label that doesn't list them on the roster, and the announcement that the art for the vinyl and discs hadn't yet been finished.
That brings the music of MBV itself. That's the thing isn't it? Was it worth the wait? If the record had been a person, it would be full legal and out on a bender. Can it live up to the hype? The answer is: of course not, because it can't.
Critics and self-titled pundits can get as pithy as they want on their social media of choice but a secret truth about music is that for the most part the music is secondary to the experience. We like what we like in part due to the situations and the people in which we experience them. It's what we heard during that first secret kiss, it's what was playing when you met your best friend, or that time you did that outrageous thing that all your friends can't believe you did and it was so amazing.
Music is a social experience, that audience who loved Loveless as a Gospel is a good deal older now; their relationship to music -- hell, their relationship to everything -- is changed.
The record feels like 1998, and had it come out then it might be one of my favorites. Instead it came out in 2013, and what was cutting-edge feels like a weathered Polaroid from yesterday, a road not traveled that seems to lead to a '90s renaissance fair. See, you can't go home again. You can visit, sure, but you will never experience that in the same way again. That's not so bad actually, because between you and me there was some truly awful crap I could do without experiencing again.
I am thankful for the perspective that comes with time. It is a trait I wish Mr. Shields shared. Because his once razor-sharp cutting edge feels more like a lost album than a new path into the sonic jungle. I really wanted that new path. I wanted to see the future again, and instead I am left with nostalgia. I appreciate what I got, but its hard not to feel like a kid at Christmas that for sure knew he was getting a pony, only to get one and discover it had a "My Little" in front of it.
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