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My Bloody Valentine
Isn't Anything, Loveless reissues Taylor Parkes , May 8th, 2012 09:00

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My Bloody Valentine - LovelessSo what to make of this noise now, with British pop restored/reduced to chirpiness, choppiness or chippiness, everyone running around like idiots? I suppose it should sound dated. It doesn't: My Bloody Valentine's breathy roar, reissued into a new century, stands outside of time, is stronger than time. Their flaws are perhaps more obvious with hindsight, not least because those flaws - "excessive solipsism, fussiness, overindulgence" - led directly to their disintegration, but the helpless immediacy of this sound could never be anything but contemporary, and the reach of these records makes bands yet to form sound hopelessly out-of-date.

Isn't Anything was startling even in the climate of 1988, the last time rock felt the urge to experiment rather than indulge itself, perpetually, in parody and celebration. While its roots show through in songwriting and performance, the sound of this record owes nothing to the past, in any sense - livid, lurid and lucid, it's the shattering racket of the moment, an audio snapshot of the overwhelmed senses, a noise like nothing you've ever heard, but everything you've ever felt. Rather than rock, My Bloody Valentine played the tones and textures of raw experience: the weight of the air before a thunderstorm, the shifting hum of psychosis, the quickening blood... it's all there in the warped babel of wildfire guitar. ’Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)’ and the juddering ’Cupid Come’ are stop-start simulacra of sloppy, stoned sex (the latter lurching to a fiery aural orgasm), the smeared, muggy ’Lose My Breath’ finds transcendent bliss in oxygen deprivation, ’Several Girls Galore’ breathes mind-bending life into themes of disassociation and depersonalisation. Throughout, they sound like newborns reeling in the light, every sensation a delirious, unmanageable rush.

Where Loveless is blanched, Isn't Anything is vivid, even in the cannaboid fog of ’Sueisfine’; as Loveless lapses into the simply soporific, Isn't Anything keeps its punch, even as the smacked-out ’All I Need’ slips in and out of consciousness. That's partly down to Colm O'Ciosoig's restless drumming, sharp slaps to the face when the songs start to nod out. On the later album he's submerged, sampled, or absent altogether (having missed much of the recording through illness), and those desiccated rhythms contribute to a certain sterility, a sense of being shrinkwrapped. At its best, Loveless is untouchable - at worst, it's like having lost the sense of touch.

Everything works beautifully on what's still their most sublime piece, the eternally astonishing ’To Here Knows When’, that swishing percussive loop an essential hang-on in the musical equivalent of zero gravity. But when they try the same trick on the pretty-pretty ’Blown A Wish’, all hushed and glowing like it's drowning in seratonin, what I hear is stillness, and rank good taste (fitting that the song itself recalls the wretchedly nice late-period Cocteau Twins). ’I Only Said’ plays gleeful games with tonality before exploding into the sound of a drugged summer, but then the marvellously windblown sound of ’Come In Alone’ can't dispel a certain fugginess. For all its moments of raging glory (and there are more here than in most musicians' drugged-up dreams), Loveless as a whole can be somewhat suffocating.

Constant glare tires the ear - ironically for a record that has no sense of time, this works best in short bursts. For ten or fifteen minutes, that incorporeal awe feels like riding Voyager 1 through the Jovian bow shock; half an hour passes, and you're craving something fresh and green. What you get instead, as the album winds up, is ’Soon’, the second-best thing here and a genuinely radical record in precisely the way that much of Loveless isn't: fading in over a twittering dawn chorus of sampled feedback, its first lurch is like a detonation, and as ’Soon’ pitch-shifts your life, you realise that however stupendous their achievements, My Bloody Valentine were capable of more. Though it's one of the few rock LPs that wouldn't sound better if it had been recorded in four days, much of Loveless is slightly overcooked, and the smooth pressure of ’Soon’ is a glimpse of a future that never came, now drifting further and further out of reach.

(For this re-release, Loveless comes as a 2-CD set, comprising a straightforward remastering job and a new version, “remastered from analogue tapes” by Kevin Shields. The new version sounds richer, slightly warmer - but the differences are so subtle, that might just be the air currents in my room - and I have no idea what justifies the double disc. Nothing better illustrates the mix of indolence and perfectionism that was My Bloody Valentine's downfall: aversion to new activity, compounded by an irresistible compulsion to tinker.)

But musicians are lazy people, and seventeen years of silence is vastly preferable to what the Valentines' successors did with this monstrous motherlode. Much was made of MBV's abandonment of “the band”, rock's kineticism displaced by many-angled blasts of pure sensation - but the point was to liberate the music from its own history and the demands of the form, open up vistas of mouth-watering possibility. But in the end, the most influential thing about this music was how effortless it all sounded - an illusion that killed. A thousand clots turned the guitars up to 13 and stopped listening to each other... and so, a new orthodoxy: out went words, instrumental interplay, the outside world. In came self-absorbed, soft-focus slop, a mussed and woozy waste. The rot had set in with The Jesus & Mary Chain's sullen immobility, but it was MBV who poisoned British guitar rock for more than half a decade (and left a legacy of laziness from which it's never really recovered). What can you do? Offer some folk an apple and they'll choke a pig with it. These bright, intrepid records sired a generation of sludge.

Yet here, still, My Bloody Valentine sound wide open to the universe, the opposite of blank, the opposite of bland, and their historical significance can go hang, because everything that's ever happened, or ever will, is happening right here and right now in the best of this extraordinary music.

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your mum
Jun 11, 2008 1:18pm

that 'remastered' Loveless second cd - most importantly, does it sound any LOUDER? it's always seemed the most ludicrous thing about that record (both the original cd and vinyl versions) that for what it is, sonically, it seems to be mixed so infuriatingly *quietly* - or at least not as face-meltingly loud as it should've been
(or maybe it's just my seemed good enough to the ten-year-old me on a knackered walkman listening to the copied tape being passed around the school bus back in the day, but such anal things weren't so important back then..)
great piece tho - i can almost *feel* those tracks as i read it...

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Jun 11, 2008 1:24pm

"These bright, intrepid records sired a generation of sludge. "

name names!

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baby jebus
Jun 12, 2008 1:58am

Surely the brilliant, slightly derivative Isn't Anything was the logical next step after Sonic Youth and Dinosaur. The surprise was that it came out of London, not the exotic US.
MBV still sound great, true, but this tribute to 1991 music hackery has not dated so well.

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Jun 12, 2008 3:18am

so basically you like isn't anything more because it 'raux'? interesting theory. do u lyke husker du?

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Jun 12, 2008 3:21am

Cannaboid = Cannabinoid.

Other than that, pretty much spot on.

@your mum - nope, it ain't mixed any higher than the original. Hmm, frustrating!

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Jun 12, 2008 11:26pm

LOUDER is pretty much whatever you make of it with your volume knob. records are not usually actually "louder" but simply more compressed, making them SEEEM louder overall. but that same process often damages the actual loudest points in the recording. it can make drums and other instruments sound less "punchy" because they get "squashed" - or simply because the difference between them and the quieter sounds isn't that big.

read more here:

or do a search for the phrase "loudness wars".

kevin shields is pretty much against overcompressed mastering and remastering, but cleearly recognizes people's ears are used to that. hence the two different versions; the usual way, and his way.

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Timothy Gabriele
Jun 14, 2008 10:13pm

Crit like this confuses me. You say Loveless lacks the "edge" of Isn't Anything, which I assume means that it isn't as energized by propulsive percussion or traditional song perversion (which Loveless can't be bothered with as it exists in its own universe), which is fine, but then you go on to lament the formlessness of bands in their wake- as if they were solely responsible for a drift to anti-orthodoxy for weird's sake. I can think of a few examples that fit this bill during the next decade or so. I can think of far more that plodded along under the dunder of rock's many pre-ordained dictates. Even assuming this pertains to the brigade of ripoff artists in their wake rather than the litany of swirling, swaths of MBV-inspired noise that challenged conventions in their wake (Boards of Canada, M83, Broadcast, Seefeel, et. al.), it seems most of thos post-MBV imitators (Medicine, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver) harped more off the sampledelic clangor of "Soon" than the general ethereality of "Blown a Wish"

Also, you credit MBV with leaving a legacy of laziness, yet admit the album is " one of the few rock LPs that wouldn’t sound better if it had been recorded in four days" one in which tweaks of minutaie are valued above "songs", which seemingly places a hierarchical imperative towards albums recorded quickly and cheaply (Loveless's wild budget bankrupted Creation)- which, to me, seems the breeding ground for laziness.

I find MBV's focus on "pure sensation" extremely liberating and find the dreamy, soporific stuff to be apposite to a logocentric rock universe favoring form, beats, and tunes over space and timbre. I also personally find that I can put on Loveless at any time, either one or two songs or the whole album, while I generally reserve Isn't Anything (which I also cherish dearly) for special occasions. But that's just my opinion, and I can find positives and negatives in the legacies of both.

I guess maybe I would have been more convinced with a few more examples.

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My Bloody Valentine live at ULU Feb 25th 1989 « N.M.E. & Melody Maker
Jun 22, 2008 12:53pm

[...] Well written post about MBV’s 2008 ICA rehearsal on The Quietus where you can also read the excellent Taylor Parkes review of the Isn’t Anything and Loveless re-issues [...]

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Jun 23, 2008 2:34pm

I suppose one of the more annoying things about 'Loveless' is how it seems to have become the Pavlovian response for Real Music Fans whenever the 'most important album' discussion crops up. It's as if enjoying it as a woozy, difficult, unique rock album isn't enough on its own, and is used as an opportunity for people to say, "Well, sure, you like 'Exile on Main Street', but this is my favourite - though I don't think you'll get it...".

It's great album though - I agree that it's possibly too much in one sitting - and every time I start to have a suspicion that the hype isn't really justified and the little voice tells me that it's just an album by an inventive rock band, I listen to it and remember how liltingly lovely it is.

Joe -

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Peter Knutson
Aug 21, 2008 10:13pm

I'm listening to Loveless right now. It's up as loud as the dial will take me...and it is magnificently loud.

God I love it loud.


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Johnny Nothing
Mar 5, 2009 8:41pm

I seem to recall overall disappointment in the press when Loveless surfaced. I always thought Glider was their high water mark anyway.

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Jun 3, 2010 1:31pm

In reply to themis:

I agree with you on the loudness, but I think a few particular records I know ARE actually louder. I swear: the iggy-mixed re-issue of Raw Power killed the entire sound system in my frontroom, and fucked my stereo till it fuzzes 24-7.

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Aug 5, 2010 11:20pm

In reply to bird:

How can you guys review the remasters when they have yet to be released? I know Record Companies send out pre release samples etc but this was 2 years ago and they STILL havent been released. Amazon now states Jan 24th 2011 ie it wil be the 20th anniversary edition...Awesome record tho...hopefully we will also get the promised Remastered EPs release too!

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May 8, 2012 1:24pm

Of all albums that should ultimately be played LOUD this is one of the best.

Still, I prefer Slowdive anytime.

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Dr Up
May 8, 2012 1:27pm

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

From memory, you're correct. If you check out the early minutes of the excellent Upside Down movie about Creation, you'll see a reproduction of a Melody Maker end of year poll for 1991, with Loveless trundling along several places behind the clearly superior Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

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salkin red
May 8, 2012 4:44pm

so wait, you're basically re-releasing the review of previously unreleased re-releases? the mind boggles.

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May 8, 2012 5:17pm

Hopefully this is a mistake... Comments on the remaster would be welcome as long as they are thorough.. Personally I do not think they hold a candle to the original vinyl (high quality rips of that have been floating around for a couple of years.. And that just maybe they are not as good as Medicine's recent reissues, shot forth self living being the standard bearer... However they kill robin guthrie's Cocteau twins abominations so at least there's that..

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May 8, 2012 6:43pm

These are awesome. Yes, over the intervening years pop has picked clear down to dust but, certainly, this is not their fault.

To be honest, I prefer Loop's 'A Gilded Eternity' to either of these - and the remaster from a few years back is a substantial improvement over the similarly anemic original.

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May 8, 2012 9:26pm

A good read, thanks. That said, I'm not sure why you are lavishing so much praise on 'Isn't Anything' - it's pish.

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May 9, 2012 8:12am

More details on the remastering of Loveless, including the manufacturing errors, can be found here:

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May 10, 2012 12:53am

Strange but I can easily sit and listen to this in one sitting...and then hit play again. I find it stunning from beginning to end.

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Tim Russell
May 10, 2012 4:09am

Great piece of writing Mr Parkes. Always amazed me that an album that allegedly cost over 250 grand could be so badly mastered - looking forward to hearing the remastered version.

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May 10, 2012 12:36pm

"Musicians are lazy people,"

All of us or just the good ones?

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pointless comment
May 10, 2012 9:40pm

always preferred sy's evol myself. preferred the "sound" of loveless to the actual songs.

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billy shitpants
May 14, 2012 11:48am

god this is such a horrible review why dont you just give up the music reviewing pretence and just concentrate on writing that great novel/epic poem youre so obviously dying to write

"that incorporeal awe feels like riding Voyager 1 through the Jovian bow shock"


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Jun 7, 2012 1:32am

Interesting take. I find Isn't Anything and Loveless both superb for different reasons. My thoughts:

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