My Bloody Valentine have always appeared, according to John Calvert, “stranded, much like the God-note, in a state of nothing”.
What little exists of their music has always inhabited that strange, surreal inner-space that defies definition for those who return to that nether region with near-religious devotion.
To others, though, My Bloody Valentine are the band that seemingly invented shoegaze, bankrupted Creation Records, and released the incredible Loveless in 1991 before maestro/overlord Kevin Shields disappeared up his own arse.
Presumably he was comfortable knowing he’d almost single-handedly created the greatest record of the 90s (which is saying something given compatriots releasing Parklife, What’s the Story Morning Glory? and OK Computer in the same era).
Shields, famously a perfectionist often found entranced in his own trance, has done nothing to dispel this reputation. 22 years between records is no way to treat your fans, but whatever animosity brewed during that long wait has been struck down with the surprise release of mbv (imaginative title, no?).
Twitter hemorrhaged, before gushing completely, as did The Guardian’s Alex Petredis who praised the record’s “sickly, disconcerting quality, like a kind of aural equivalent of the way you feel just before you faint.”
But is it worthy of out-and-out dedication? Will patient fans be rewarded for their proselytizing?
Y’see, part of what made Loveless so troubling was its time in gestation, the embryos of what would later become iconic songs transported from studio to studio, from amplifier to mixing desk and back again.
When that child was finally delivered, it was covered in muck – a messy birth and a messy record –all the better for it. It’s a glorious haze from start to finish, where sounds become souls that twirl endlessly and merge without notice: lyrics are whispered and never sung, and guitars glide in and out of focus thanks to Shields’ innovative mangling of a Fender Jazzmaster’s bridge.
He delivers much of the same on mbv, but with more clarity, but it lacks punch – gone are the days of bruising serenades like Only Shallow and You Made In Realise – but the songs (if we can call them that) are stronger products, no longer simply experiments in sound.
Just days before the mysterious release of the latest record, a live track emergred online bearing the hallmarks of a revamped I Only Said played at extreme volumes. It appears on mbv as the far-gentler New You. It lacks the sheer chaos of older material, but slowly comes to resemble an actual song: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, ethereal melody, repeat til end.
Only Tomorrow and Who Sees You carry the same stamp of newfound aerodynamics, held together with Belinda Butcher’s other-worldly vocals, though the same cannot be said for two wayward turns: the album-closing Nothing Is and Wonder 2 – hamfisted soundchecks bolted on to an otherwise enjoyable record.
mbv feels like a pastiche of its predecessor, an adolescent cousin that wasn’t given the same care, attention, and devotion, but still grew up to be a stellar adult.
Top quote John Calvert once again: “If you wanted to enough, and needed to enough, you could believe that music is evidence of something more than life, and that the very act of believing is salvation in itself. And, were that true, MBV's method of salvation isn't in their ability to change your world, but your world within it.”