On Having Spent Valentine’s Week With My Bloody Valentine

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine was released so long ago, we barely could remember what it sounded like.  But when Kevin Shields broke his long — well, what was it? Deliberate silence? Writer’s block? Search for perfection? Diffidence? — with the release, two Saturdays ago, of m b v, of course we had to root around in our iTunes library to listen, over and over, to the Ur-albums, both Loveless and Isn’t Anything.  And yes, we remember now, there’s greatness there.   Michael Nelson’s smart piece in  Stereogum — that there didn’t need to be a follow-up to Loveless, because everyone from Sugar to the Smashing Pumpkins had already done it by 1992, made a lot of sense: in their early ’90s moment, MBV’s influence radiated everywhere.

Viewed from the other end of the telescope, more than two decades hence, we now also see influences on subsequent bands that we’d missed, because we’d gotten into them long after MBV was a distant memory of the pre-Clinton era.  When we became fans of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, of course we heard the Velvet Underground echo through Anton’s guitar lines.  In retrospect, there’s a reason — duh! — that one of BJM’s (weaker) albums was called My Bloody Underground.  And of course MBV was another important influence on the Morning After Girls and their spawn, the black ryder.

m b v shows the best and worst of Shields’ songwriting.  There’s the same ambient gauze wrapping the guitar lines, like a short flight entirely through thick clouds, with only the occasional glimpse of either blue sky melody or the ground.  There’s the same inability to choose which key we are actually playing in, like a driver who can’t decide between lanes.  Occasionally, there’s the wispy promise of Bilinda Butcher’s voice, and on songs like “Only Tomorrow” there is undeniable greatness.  But a lot of it is like listening to paint dry, nothing to sustain us but sustain itself.

James Joyce famously said that it took him 17 years to write Finnegan’s Wake, and it was just fine that it might take his audience 17 years to read it.  m b v will not take us the 22 years it took to make for us to understand it.  It has a few very good songs, and the rest is forgettable. The fact of its existence is more important than the quality of the work, and despite only wanting to listen to two or three songs on it, we’re encouraged, and so should be Shields.

We admire Kevin Shields returning to the world, we wish him well, and hope that the band, having gotten this long gestated album out into the world, can pick up some momentum.  There are a thousand reasons for an artist to be silent.  Now that Shields is back in the world, we hope he keeps going.

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