My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

On 11/4/91, Creation Records released My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. So, that’s the day responsible for the warped nature of a large chunk of your record collections! Book it. 20 is the sort of nice and round number that nostalgists crave, and few albums from the ’90s are so worthy of rear-view mirror fetishization. But the past two decades haven’t diluted the futuristic feel of Kevin Shields’s groundbreaking studio/guitar masterpiece, and besides, what more powerful a testament to the undying influence of Loveless than those warped record collections of yours? If it feels like this anniversary crept up on you, it’s probably because it crept up on all of us. Loveless, in sound and spirit, is still young and vital.

Which isn’t to say the lore associated with the album doesn’t give it a sort of mythic, timeless feel. It’s a magnum opus, but it wasn’t any sort of divine revelation; Loveless’s sound evolved, over time, by the hand of a persistent and retentive recluse. At times the LP sounds like a quantum leap from its twisted, classic-in-its-own-right predecessor Isn’t Anything, but its blueprint was drawn over the pair of EPs between them: Glider (which gave Loveless the club/noise hit “Soon”) and Tremolo (which begat “To Here Knows When”’s cascading shimmer). Kevin Shields famously nearly bankrupted his label, touring Loveless through 19 studios and a revolving door of untold engineers. He was a pill to work with; he ate pills and bummed around the rave scene and slicked up those baggy-era drum loops. His guitars sound alien, and elephantine, and are, incredibly, chorus and flanger free. The record’s is a studio masterpiece, but its defining element is not the work of machine, but of that man’s hand — on a tremolo bar, phasing in and out of pitch, creating his own sort of reality distortion field.

My Bloody Valentine were a band, it’s true, and Bilinda Butcher’s vocal contributions to Loveless are instrumental. (Do with that pun what you will.) So is the work of Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drums (live on two tracks, sampled throughout) and writing (“Touched”). But Loveless was primarily product of that one mind, bent and demented in pursuit of new angles on guitar-based music. On technical grounds, Shields inverted levels of vocals and instruments, redefining his listeners’ relationships with each; poetically, he flipped the switch on noise and beauty, club beats and feedback, making the aggressive more beautiful and the restrained, unsettling. The vocals are androgynous, and sexless, yet entirely sensual. It’s one of the last greatly inventive guitar records we’ve had. It’s a whole ball or weird paradoxes and contrasts, and it rules because of it.

Now, making Loveless may have consumed Kevin’s spirit. Shields is on record saying he’s abandoned the sessions on at least one full album due to their lack of inspiration. If you’re looking for an explanation for the silence, he’s said he made himself a promise that MBV would never release an album that wasn’t as good as Loveless. But he’s also said that as long as they don’t die, there will be a new record. Back in 2007, when MBV announced their triumphant reunion, Kevin said he was 75% through a record he began in 1996. Which by my calculations means the long-awaited Loveless followup will be completed in … 2011. Hi.

The beauty of an album as watershed as Loveless, of course, is that it is a self-contained universe, and needs no followup to cement its position for posterity. It was important then, and still is, and somehow still sounds like the future even 20 years on. There are broad strokes in Loveless’s sound that have proven irresistible to inferior projects, but there’s a spirit to the record that’s inspired so many great records since. So, while we usually sign off these anniversary posts with a solicitation for your favorite song from the album, or maybe your favorite memory associated with it, that doesn’t feel right here. For an album as monumentally influential, maybe it’s more appropriate to ask: What’s your favorite band/record that couldn’t have been if not for Loveless? Or maybe your least favorite would work here, too. It’s a long conversation, and just like the record’s importance to guitar bands, one that won’t end anytime soon.

Happy 20, Loveless. You done good.

Comments (56)
  1. Billy Corgan, for better or for worse, would not have had a career without this record.

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    • Corgan is talented enough that he would have had a career without ‘Loveless’. His songs just would have sounded different.

  2. Isn’t Siamese Dream sorta the poor man’s Loveless?

    • ‘Siamese Dream’ is way too good to be reduced to that. That’s like calling ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ a poor man’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

      • Exactly. Gish came out the same year as Loveless, and they already sound killer on that, Siamese Dream was a progression from there, albeit one that IS obviously influenced by Loveless.

        And Siamese is every bit as good as Loveless as far as I’m concerned because they are both DIFFERENT albums. Siamese Dream is a big dynamic rock album, Loveless is something else entirely.

        It’s just that Corgan turned out to be a massive shit who’s diminished his reputation over the years while MBV haven’t put out anything since.

        • I don’t know, I saw the Pumpkins live this month and the new stuff from Oceania sounded great. Great as in much better than anything titled “The King Of Limbs” was this year

    • you’re a real jerk

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  4. every october I go around and smash pumpkins to this album.

  5. Well said, Amrit. Great albums have always confounded my initial takes and then gradually taught me how to listen to them on their own terms. In the process, they’ve changed how I listen to everything else as well. Loveless is one of them.

    As for Siamese Dream, you can’t reduce that album to Loveless. Let Corgan do his own thing, at least back when he did it well. There is way too much Queen and metal in that album to treat it as derivative.

    • “As for Siamese Dream, you can’t reduce that album to Loveless. Let Corgan do his own thing, at least back when he did it well. There is way too much Queen and metal in that album to treat it as derivative.”

      Yep. Add a little Butch Vig and baby you got a stew going.

  6. Just 20? It’s weird how that age fits Nirvana’s Nevermind just fine but it kind of sets Loveless in a weird place by comparison, which I enjoy infinitely more. That said, I can’t imagine many of M83′s pre-Saturdays = Youth albums being what they were without Shield’s influence.

  7. I just recently got into Loveless, and I keep coming back to it all the time, but still every time I come back I hear something new, or something hits me differently. It’s honestly become probably my favorite album, with the only competition being Double Nickels on the Dime.

    • I”ve been listening to Loveless for…well 20 years, and still hear things differently or new on each spin. Crazy isn’t it? It just never gets old or less awe-inspiring to me.

      Double Nickels on the Dime is a serious record too, I agree. Nothing else out there like it I agree. In my top ten for sure.

  8. This album, more than any other, is the one that got me into indie music. I still distinctly remember how startled I was when I first heard “Only Shallow.”

  9. 1991 called, they said they still “love it”!

  10. I always found it curious that people mention smashing pumpkins and especially Siamese Dream. What are we really talking about, Disarm?! Based on that yes, there’s no doubt that Loveless was in his collection. Consider that one an homage but as for the rest of his playing, he definitely owes more to Alex Lifeson!

    for a more modern and direct influence, I’d say Sereena Maneesh.

  11. Asobi Seksu. Citrus is Loveless’ japanese cousin.

  12. For me Mirocastle/Weird Era Cont. are like Loveless grandsons.

  13. Siamese Dream is just as good as Loveless in its own way and just as much of a landmark album IMO.

  14. I feel that Loveless influenced Mogwai to form and be as loud as possible.

    If you think about it, BORIS – “Pink” has a whole heckuva lot in common with Loveless. Even down to the hard to understand lyrics.

    Finally, newcomers Weekend must be MBV fans.

    (Amrit said no personal stories jesus! Ok, Ok… LOVELESS IS A WINTER ALBUM!)

  15. Without a doubt, I am most grateful to mbv for inspiring Lift to Experience’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads and Rollerskate Skinny’s Horsedrawn Wishes.

    • Oh man. Horsedrawn Wishes was good, but Shoulder Voices was my jam. And that’s when Kevin Shields’ brother Jimi was still in the band.

      I might need to go listen to that right now.

  16. I think of Swirlies “Blonder Tongue Audio Baton” album as the ADHD child of Loveless that was more into experimental noise and indie rock with random song structures and changes.

  17. *listens to Loveless 500,000 more times*

  18. “Blown A Wish” might be the most romantic song ever.

  19. The Besnard Lakes and Wye Oak definitely owe a tip o’ the hat to MBV, …are the Roaring Night and The Knot are some of my favorite albums in recent memory. Like was said before, this album really got me into indie music, and I’m so glad I got to see them in 09 at All Points West . May they be noted in the history books in true Spinal Tap fashion as one of the loudest bands of all time.

  20. Glifted’s “Under And In” is not only a direct love letter to “Loveless,” but it surpasses it in many ways.

  21. Silversun Pickups is Loveless’ red-headed stepchild.

  22. Still waiting on that remaster, Shields.

  23. Why are we talking about Loveless when there’s a NEW Lana Del Ray song?!?!?!

  24. I love how half of these posts are about Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins. I love when people talk about Billy Corgan period. He is the guy everyone loves to hate. But even though so many people make fun of him (even his own fans), you have to respect the guy. He made amazing music in the 90′s when so much of it was shit. Mellon Collie, Siamese Dream, and Adore are some of the best albums ever. And ya, his music today kind of sucks but he’s in his 40′s and has a whole new band. I respect him for still rocking despite all the criticism. I saw him about 2 years ago because my friend had an extra ticket and no joke it was one of the best concerts I’ve seen. 3 hours and I wasn’t bored for one minute. The guy rocked. I had seem SP before and he rocked harder the second time. Chamberlain was still in the band of course. Anyhow I’m hoping Oceania is good, if not he should probably just give up lol. But anyways ya, My Bloody Valentine Loveless pretty good album lol. Definitely influenced a lot of people. However, if they blew up like The Pumpkins did, I think they might be getting the criticism today like Billy does.

    • Well, no, they wouldn’t. Over the last twenty years, you may have noticed that Kevin Shields has this really strict policy about quality control that prevents him from releasing crappy music (and unfortunately, probably at least two albums worth of great music).

      • “However, if they blew up like The Pumpkins did, I think they might be getting the criticism today like Billy does.” They didn’t blow up, they stopped. If they stayed a band and wrote more than 2 records, there’s a good possibility at some point it might get worse. No one can stay gold forever. Except for The Beatles I guess. You’re really judging a band off of 2 albums that came out 20 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I think they are great though.

        • Whether or not they got popular, they would not have released any more music because of Kevin’s perfectionism. Furthermore, my bloody valentine never really broke up because Kevin has never really stopped working on my bloody valentine music. I just told you that there are at least two albums worth of unreleased recorded material. Since loveless, sometimes studio work involved Colm and Bilinda, and sometimes it didn’t. It is true that it was only in the last few years that Kevin again began seriously talking about releasing a third album. Between maybe ’99 and ’07 there was a gap of time where Kevin said next to nothing about releasing new music and Bilinda and Colm were not doing anything in the studio with him. Since then, they have done two tours and very recently, Colm recorded new drum tracks and Bilinda recorded some vocals. Some bands do not release subpar material, and a band can only be judged on the material they choose to release. If you only release “gold,” then you stay gold.

          • Agreed. Also, Shields doesn’t have the balloon-head of Corgan (figuratively and literally), so I don’t think MBV would’ve been scrutinized to the extent of Corgan (whose Pumpkins were amazing circa 1991-1995). Ego is Corgan’s problem, whereas OCD is Shields’ problem, and I’ll take OCD over ego any day of the week.

            And I want my damn Loveless remaster, the album doesn’t mix well in my Shoegaze/Drone playlist because it’s too damn quiet (I know, I know, the album needs to be listened to “as a piece,” but I’ve done that hundreds of times already).

  25. Kevin Shields recently took part in another masterpiece:

  26. Toronto’s Loveless: an all-Toronto bands covers compilation of the masterpiece.

  27. This album is awesome, and as amrit writes, it sounds fresh and young. Is it okay if I think the drums sound a lil dated though?

  28. So… Does this mean we get a reissue, now?

  29. About five years ago I was driving alone through the Mojave desert near Edwards AFB at night. It was so dark, all I could see was yellow lane marker flashing by and the stars above; with no external reference point, it felt like I was flying through space. And then, of the 20,000 or so songs on my iPod, the shuffler decided to play Soon. Despite all the people I’ve loved and the good times I’ve had with them, if there were one moment in my life I could call perfect, I think that might be it.

  30. Discovered this in my freshman year of high school. I couldn’t get over how amazing it was. Listen to it all the time and it’s worn from all the friends I’ve loaned it to.

  31. I’ve probably listened to this album more times than any other — Loomer and What You Want still peel my wig back, all these years later.

    Thanks for the suggestions on bands. Glifter, Lift to Experience, and Rollerskate Skinny are all getting plays tomorrow. Never heard of any of em.

  32. Loveless had a big impact on the Toronto scene, especially bands such as Mean Red Spiders, Neck, South Pacific and Hollowphonic. Some of those original groups and their descendents are playing at a tribute night coming up entitled Lovel(in)ess, presented by Wavelength on Nov. 18 at the Garrison:!/event.php?eid=274458015921905

  33. The only problem with this prompt is that Loveless is an eccentric, genius project of Kevin Shield’s own. There are many bands who have drawn inspiration from it. I spent a couple years trying to find something comparable to the record to no avail. I realized that this was a diamond in the roughest rough. The people who may or may not list MBV as an influence in Loveless’s wake who I respect today are: The Black Angels, Deerhunter, Lilys– Any band that’s relinquished enough control to let their music speak for them instead of their clever lyrics. Any band that’s not relied on guitar pedals to create the indelible mark of great guitar music. Any band that’s fit multitudes of moods or forays. Bands that recognize the genius of wall of sound, of the movement of tremolo, of an overload of ambience.

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