Ashley Cooke tells the story of My Bloody Valentine’s seminal album – Loveless.
Twenty-one years ago, Dublin shoegazers My Bloody Valentine released their sophomore album, and what would prove to be their final release. Last week’s remaster and rerelease of Loveless, after several years of expectation, has confirmed the originality and lasting legacy of their seminal slice of fuzzy, distorted, guitar rock.
The reputation of the recording process almost precedes the album itself. Owing to the insistence of principal guitarist and vocalist Kevin Shields to ‘capture the moment’ and record only when they felt creative and inspired, the album was reputed to have bankrupted Creation Records. Rumours and finances aside, the approach that Shields took on Loveless ensured the final release was a genuinely inspired piece. Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan told Spin, “[I]t’s rare in guitar-based music that somebody does something new… everybody was like, ‘How the fuck are they doing this?’ And, of course, it’s way simpler than anybody would imagine.” Whilst each track sounds as if it has layer upon layer of guitar, as in Phil Spektor’s ‘Wall of Sound’ production technique, and despite accusations of Shields’ meticulous perfectionism, it is usually just one guitar producing the dense soundscape. Shields constantly wavers the guitar’s tremolo bar as he strums to produce their distinct sound nicknamed ‘glide guitar’, a unique pitch bend that continuously sends the strings in and out of tune.
Loveless was the brainchild of Shields, and besides the vocal and lyrical contributions of Bilinda Butcher, the album was effectively his own creation. Bassist Debbie Googe was credited but did not perform on the album, Colm Ó Cíosói played drum patterns that were sampled and looped for most tracks owing to illness and homelessness, and Shields took on all guitar duties from Butcher. From the opening drumming on ‘Only Shallow’ to the hypnotic, Happy Monday’s-esque riff of album-closer ‘Soon’, Loveless is an atmospheric work of distorted guitars, hazy vocals, and touching lyrics of love and learning.
Ranked 219th on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums’, given the incredible accolade of best album of the 1990s by Pitchfork, and placed twentieth on The Observer’s ‘100 Greatest British Albums’, Loveless has quite rightly left a loving critical legacy. From Oxford art rockers Radiohead, to indie rock stalwarts Guided by Voices, via Brian Eno and Nine Inch Nails, Loveless has had a profound impact upon a diverse array of artists since its inception. Even new acts, such as indie pop group The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, owe a considerable debt to My Bloody Valentine’s overdriven guitar sound, whilst any fan of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation will surely remember Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson being driven across Tokyo after another night of ennui and alienation beneath the city lights, to the fuzzy guitar and spidery vocals of ‘Sometimes.’
With talk of a new album to be released this year, now seems as good a time as any to revisit the group that The Cure’s Robert Smith crudely but admiringly proclaimed were “the first band I heard who quite clearly pissed all over us.” As the band stand still on stage, gazing down at their shoes as they play; they manage to capture the optimism of youth, immerse you in hypnotic rhythms and hazy guitar and genuinely touch you in a way few other records do.