‘Loveless’ turns 25
Christian Bunker | Monday, November 7, 2016
Of all my unpopular musical opinions, the one that perturbs people the most is my insistence that some albums take several listens to appreciate. Common sense says that if something is bad the first time, it’s going to stay bad. However, I firmly believe that the best things in life are acquired tastes. From black coffee to Guinness to dark chocolate to the original Spiderman movies, the best rewards require you to put in some effort. In the same way, the best music is music that grows on you. You’re confused or even bored through the first five listens, but then you wake up one morning and every guitar riff and key change is stuck firmly in your head.
My Bloody Valentine’s seminal release “Loveless” is not just an album that grows on you. When most music of this type finally clicks, what was once a bizarre sonic landscape becomes friendly territory. In “Loveless,” the distortion, density and general refusal to sound like what music is expected to sound like are seemingly inexhaustible. This is not just because the album sounds weird. Sure, Bilinda Butcher’s voice is absolutely ethereal and Kevin Shields’ guitar sounds like a steel foundry operating at maximum capacity, but you get used to these. It’s the studio wizardry that sets this album apart.
“Distortion” is a defining word for the shoegaze genre and the one most commonly applied to Shields’ production, but I argue that this descriptor gives an inaccurate view of Shields’ studio work. Distorting something is robbing it of its meaning; it is turning a beautiful painting into a muddled mess. These songs, however, have so much going on that it’s our senses that are forced to capitulate and blend everything together for fear of being overwhelmed. The instruments blend together organically and we hear one unified motif, which is typically repeated for the entirety of the song, but to stop there is to miss out on so much. I always found it fitting that the album begins with a song titled “Only Shallow,” because it is anything but.
That’s why there’s nothing out of the ordinary about reviewing “Loveless” 25 years after its release. You could have been listening to this album for that length of time, and still find something new in it today. I recently discovered the guitars that rise and fall like waves under the hypnotic singing of “To Here Knows When,” the haunting cry lurking far away in “Come In Alone” and the stunning beauty of the final minute of “What You Want.” And it seems that the drums are totally ignored on this album, which is a travesty, since Colm O’Ciosoig does some outstanding work.
I would be remiss, of course, to not mention how incredibly innovative this work was. For me, this was the album that redefined what you could press in vinyl and sell as music, and the new definition was everything. So many awesome-in-a-weird-way bands, from Slowdive to Sigur Ros, are indebted to this one album that its anniversary should be Thanksgiving for music nerds. But to concentrate on what My Bloody Valentine’s imitators sound like is a poor way to appreciate them, and lauding the influence of “Loveless” is an inauthentic way to pay them tribute. A quarter of a century later, this album is still a collection of unbeatable songs that happens to sound totally different from the vast majority of the rock canon. Like a fine wine, I predict that this album will only get better with age.
Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Label: Creation Records
Tracks: “To Here Knows When,” “When You Sleep,” “What You Want,” “Soon”
If you like: Slowdive, Spiritualized