Loveless Turns 20
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.