Classic Albums: My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

Magnum opus of the shoegazing genre

Shoegaze. With its visual and onomatopoeic qualities, this fittingly coined idiom wormed its way into the musical vernacular back in the late-Eighties and continued to pervade the collective psyche until the early-Nineties. My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ was the magnum opus of the shoegazing genre and the band’s second full-length LP which, when it was released in 1991, raised the bar so high that it subsequently collapsed under its own weight, paving the way for the onslaught of American-imported grunge that followed from its untimely end.

Reportedly costing £250,000 to make, with its 48:33 minutes of deftly layered noise, the album nearly bankrupted Alan McGee’s Creation Records, bleeding the label dry and igniting a tumult of personal disputes and relationship breakdowns in the process, which inevitably led to the band’s split from Creation shortly after the release. Songwriter Kevin Shields was notoriously difficult to work with, but his quest for perfection and boundless faith ultimately served him well, as ‘Loveless’ is now considered to be one of the greatest albums of that decade.

Formed in 1984 in Dublin, by founding members Kevin Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig, My Bloody Valentine recorded the LP over a two-year period and with its signature traits – the androgynous, obfuscated vocals, sampled drum loops, distortion and pitch bending – was heralded as a monstrous shape-shifting force, transforming perceptions and prevailing ideas about the ubiquitous guitar. Owing to the absence of any kind of tangible chorus, it maintained a scathing disregard for traditional song structures and brought a wealth of modus operandi to the fore. One of these was the ‘reverse reverb’ effect or ‘reverse echo’, a technique with which the band later became inextricably linked. Shields also famously used a tremolo bar to strum his guitar, generating a kind of atonal swoon, and it was this steadfast rejection of flanger pedals – heavily associated with other shoegaze bands – which was one of the most pioneering aspects of the band’s work.

The album’s sexually charged lyrical content is obscured by swirling and orgasmic noise, but strange paradoxes of fragility/brutality, intimacy/detachment recur throughout as opener ‘Only Shallow’ regales listeners with its notions of casual sex. A vivid blur of acid-pink hues, the ‘Loveless’ covermount serves as the perfect visual accompaniment to the album, the three words (‘My Bloody Valentine’) playing second fiddle to the hazy image of a hand mid-strum. With its more melodic musical composition, ‘Only Shallow’ was released as the album’s sole single and was also one of only two tracks (the other being ‘Touched’) which employed Ó Cíosóig’s live drumming skills, rather than sampled drum parts. The record featured the vocal talents of Bilinda Butcher, who lacquered the often harsh sounding noise with a bittersweet, seductive glaze, and ‘Loomer’ is resplendent with her breathy, undulating vocals. With its fluttering, far away hook, ‘To Here Knows When’ is often cited as the fan’s choice and is a track which Brian Eno once called ‘“the most vaguest song ever”. But it is the goosebump-inducing ‘When You Sleep’, co-produced by Ó Cíosóig, which became the album’s anchor track, enjoying more widespread popularity.

‘Loveless’ was re-issued in 2008, acquainting a whole new generation of music fans with the murky sound of shoegaze and thus detonating an explosion of so-called ‘nu-gaze’ prototypes, once again confirming the band’s unwavering position in the indie canon.

Words by April Welsh

My Bloody Valentine ‘Loveless’

Released: November 1991
Producers: Kevin Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig
Musicians: Kevin Shields (lead vocals, guitar) Colm Ó Cíosóig (drums), Bilinda Butcher (vocals)

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