Ah, My Bloody Valentine…This is a band which has existed in various guises for more than three decades. In that time they’ve managed to release a whopping THREE studio albums. Yes, you read that right. Not only that, but m b v is their first in more than twenty years, following on (at a great distance) from 1991’s masterpiece Loveless…which was reportedly recorded in no less than 19 studios! So they’re not the busiest band on the planet…even the notoriously sporadic The Blue Nile seem utterly prolific in comparison, but what My Bloody Valentine have given us previously has been pretty spectacular. So….after two decades, does the Irish outfit have anything to offer us?
Well, the good news is that die hard fans of the band will not be disappointed with m b v; The form and style are very much in the same vein as Loveless. The woozy, meandering arrangements are still propelled by shimmering guitars, floating synth lines and airy vocals.
There are a couple of elements that prevent it from being a mere 21st century Xerox of Loveless though. For one, there’s little in the way of catchiness or pop sensibility. There are no discernable choruses or infectious musical hooks anywhere to be found….on the first few listens anyway. For what is essentially a pop group (albeit one with some peculiar avant garde tendencies) this at first seems to be a strange approach. Some albums leap out at you on the first listen and instantly grab you. This is NOT one of those albums. Repeated listens and firm concentration are required to glean the most out of it. Only then will the listener begin to hear the clever melodic lines and bizarre chord progressions begin to emerge from the colourful aural sludge. The lack of any radio friendly poppiness is no doubt intentional, and if I were to use one word to sum up this album, it would be uncompromising. The band have pushed their slightly woozy sound even further than on Loveless, achieved mainly by creative use of their guitars’ vibrato arms….so much so that some of the tracks border on the vertiginous. At times one gets the sensation of being awfully seasick and under the influence of powerful hallucinogens simultaneously…all dizziness and swirling hues of colour…this is the sound of god vomiting rainbows at you…er…at certain points in the album anyway.
At other points, however, it’s pretty damned boring. Several of the tracks are rather directionless and lack the swaying drive of their more entertaining counterparts. Unfortunately the weaker tracks are also rather lengthy and this makes concentrating on the record a tad difficult.
It’s a fairly consistent effort though, even the less interesting songs meander along with the same semi-ambient lope as the rest of the album.
The record itself feels almost like one giant song, but as I previously hinted at, there are definite standouts. “Who Sees You” is by far the most violently lurching track on the disc and while it has an enthralling overall feel, I most certainly would NOT recommend listening to it if you’ve over indulged the night before! “New You” is probably the closest thing to a pop song on the disc featuring nice keyboard sounds, rhythmic guitar chops and an (almost) singable melody. “Nothing Is” is the black sheep of the album…and not in a bad way. It’s a relentless chugging track in double time that vamps on a single chord and builds and builds in intensity & volume….for three and a half minutes! It’s not boring though…it’s bizarrely hypnotic. The penultimate track, it ends with a flurry of snare drum hits and fades into the final track “Wonder 2”. Possibly the best track on the disc, it’s a whirlwind slice of slipstream weirdness that features relentless cyclonic sound effects over a bed of pulsating guitar and synth lines that combine in the strangest of melodic progressions. Very strange but very good.
This is not the masterpiece its predecessor was. It’s even less accessible and is missing the critical pop components present in classic tracks like “Only Shallow” and “To Here Knows When”. Having said that, it’s an uncompromising, brave and ultimately rewarding release that, while containing extended periods of tedium, also contains moments of brilliance.
It’s unlikely to win the band any new fans and probably wasn’t worth waiting 20 years for, but nevertheless My Bloody Valentine tragics will be reasonably satisfied with m b v and rightly so.