For a seminal band like My Bloody Valentine, the challenge of creating more music post-reunion is daunting. If a band remains static in their second stint, it is deemed a failure or, even worse, an appeal to nostalgia. And for a band to really progress, they risk alienating their faithful fans. Put simply, the effect on a band’s legacy can be like trying to attach a mediocre extension onto a stately home.
My Bloody Valentine seem to be something of a special case: their aesthetic is so original that they solely occupy a small territory at the crossroads of alt-rock and shoegaze. They therefore have full rights to build on this space as they see fit. As it turns out, m b v would be as comfortable in 1996 – as previous album Loveless’ inferior companion piece as it is twenty-years on as the ‘reunion album.’
The general trajectory of m b v maybe surprising to those who expect My Bloody Valentine to re-use the Loveless mould. Whilst Loveless begins with adrenaline – the revered ‘Only Shallow’ – m b v begins on a fainter, wistful note. The opener ‘She Found Now’ is saturated with distortion, as one might expect, but it is also comfortable in its slower pace. From there, m b v quickens as it becomes thicker, faster and more muscular. It climaxes with two fairly intimidating walls of sound in ‘Nothing Is’ and ‘Wonder 2.’ These certainly do recapture the adrenaline and ferocity of their all-too-short golden period albeit without quite such infectious hooks.
For all the talk of Kevin Shield’s “mad genius”, it’s Bilinda Butcher’s vocals that help elevate the finest tracks on the album into utterly indispensable moments. Perhaps two of the best tracks on m b v are ‘Only Tomorrow’ and ‘New You’; both of which demonstrate how timeless a combination Bilinda’s ghostly vocals and Shield’s visceral soundscapes really are. The inclusion of horns, plenty of reverb and a more conventional female vocal is a reminder that for all their progressive shoegaze vistas, they most definitely still have considerable chops as songwriters.
Unfortunately, some tracks on m b v are dispensable. ‘Is This and Yes’ has a clunky synth sound that I imagine was found in the trash folder of Brian Eno’s Macbook. I expect the track to build or accelerate into a track worthy of Shield’s output, but each time it stalls the momentum of the album. Regrettably, I suppose the inclusion of this track is for variety rather than quality
However, this is a small gripe when the album retains the idiosyncratic texture that has ensured their alt-rock legacy. For example, ‘Who Sees You’ is typically brilliant of My Bloody Valentine: guitars that sound like electric hedge cutters, hypnotic drumbeats and hushed vocals. Like nearly all of m b v, this song is a worthy, rather than exceptional, addition to their canon. Given the high standard they left for themselves twenty years ago, that seems to be a success.
In the final track ‘Wonder 2,’ Shields et al exit to what sounds like an aeroplane. Let’s just hope My Bloody Valentine aren’t signaling they are going away for a long time yet again.
…Jeremy has been listening to Sonic Youth – A Thousand Leaves…