By Scott Creney
I am not someone who worships at the Kevin Shields altar. It took me years (and a decent stereo system… and a few significant opiate experiences) to really appreciate Loveless. While writing last year’s A.R. Kane review, I resisted the urge to counter that band’s ‘Black Jesus And Mary Chain’ tag by countering that nobody ever called Kevin Shields ‘The Fat Jesus And Mary Chain’.
The release of m b v is an event in the sense that we’ll remember where we were when we first heard it was released (#mbv is the 2nd most trending thing on Twitter as I write this), but let’s not shit ourselves. We were always 99.9% certain that the eventual follow-up to Loveless was going to be underwhelming. But there was always that nagging 0.1% whispering our ear, “Yeah, but what if it isn’t, what if it’s another great album?”
But hey, any album is better than nothing at all, right? Maybe this will give people some much needed perspective on the band. There’s no such thing as geniuses, god-like or otherwise — just people like you and me, groping in the dark and sometimes hitting on the right combination of inspiration and luck and creating something special out of it. If you do it once in your life, you’re lucky.
But I wasn’t prepared for this. There are nine songs on m b v. The first six of them are seriously underwhelming. They suggest that Kevin Shields has not spent the past 20+ years developing his songwriting or working on new sounds; they suggest a talent in decline.
But the last three songs? Oh my fucking god they’re fantastic. And the last one is absolutely mind-blowing.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this before. The first 2/3 of the album is sexless and dull. It’s anti-climatic and de-carnalized. It’s MBV without the razors, without the knives. Basically, it’s boring. Even if it had come out in 1992-93 people would have disappointed and underwhelmed. But after 20 years? It’s damn near a tragedy.
Here’s the first new My Bloody Valentine song in 22 years. Tell me I’m wrong.
It’s pretty enough. But My Bloody Valentine was never about just being pretty. That was Chapterhouse.
It goes on like this for a while — ‘only tomorrow’, ‘who sees you’ (even the titles are underwhelming, practically a parody of Loveless), ‘is this and yes’, ‘if I am’… until we reach track 6, the nadir, the absolute worst thing the band’s recorded since they stopped sucking back in 1988. ‘new you’ is so uninspired that, Belinda’s vocals aside, it sounds like ‘All Together Now’ by The Farm but a little slower. I am not shitting you in the slightest.
But then something weird and totally unexpected happens. Over the course of the last three songs, the album starts to ascend into dizzily stratospheric heights. ‘in another way’ features charging distorted drum loops and the album’s first cool new guitar sound. It’s the first song that can hold its head proudly along the band’s back catalog.
‘nothing is’ is totally hypnotic and assaultive in a way that MBV’s never been before. Just a loop of fucked-up drums and surging guitar that builds on itself.
Conceptually, it’s not a million miles from Animal Collective’s take on Terry Riley. But the way it’s executed blows away that comparison. Steve Reich covering Metal Machine Music is closer to the truth. It’s the first song on the album with any real edge, any sense of attack, any goddamned purpose.
It’s the first glimmer of hope, of a possible future. It arrives nearly 40 minutes into the album.
‘wonder 2’, the last song, is the keeper.
It’s so damn good that it justifies everything — the weight, the hype, the legends and myths. It might be my favorite MBV song ever (surpassing ‘Glider’, in case you care). Harsh swooping helicopter sounds and a vocal that sounds like it was recorded through a cathedral-sized box fan. It’s the first song that lurches, that swoons and shifts and dives and disorients. It’s fucking glorious. If the other eight songs were half this inspired I’d be doing back-flips. I’d throw up my hands and concede that Kevin Shields is truly a genius.
So how the fuck are we supposed to process an album that is 2/3 blah and 1/3 brilliant? How does that make any sense at all?
I’ve got a theory. Let’s imagine that the album is the result of 20 years of (somewhat) steady work, and it’s been sequenced in chronological order. m b v starts off sounding like vague, hesitant steps away from Loveless towards something ethereal that doesn’t quite connect. And gradually, over the course of the album, Shields completely loses his way, but once he’s been reduced to total mediocrity, once he’s reached creative rock bottom, he brushes himself off (in the MBV movies to come there will be a dramatic montage to illustrate this time) and starts experimenting, pushing himself to do something great. It can’t be a coincidence that the first good song on the album is called ‘in another way’, can it? This creative breakthrough leads to another, and then another. And by the end of the album MBV is back.
It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. Feel free to work out your own explanation.
Maybe this has only been a clearing of the throat, a shaking off of the cobwebs, a necessary step into the harsh daylight of everyday existence. Maybe there is more to come. Maybe the legend is yet to be written, the statue no longer covered in pigeon shit, no longer the world’s most photographed barn, famous for being famous. Maybe there’s life in My Bloody Valentine, more life than we possibly imagined. It’s impossible to come to a conclusion to such a bizarrely inconsistent album. Suffice to say that MBV still have some new tricks. I can’t fucking wait to see what they do next. Here’s hoping it won’t be long.