FEATURE MY BLOODY VALENTINE
Will the earth move when MY BLOODY VALENTINE take to the Barrowland stage, and what colour of shoes will they be wearing? Fiona Shepherd tells why they’re one of the most important bands in the world and runs through some of the current wave of indie darlings, enshrined in popular consciousness as ‘the shoegazers’ ,
who arguably took a great deal of inspiration from this most singular ofbands.
ome bands are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Let the record show that My Bloody Valentine belong to the second category. From Dublin to London via the Continent. From a dodgy import album of generic trash gothdom to a surefire placing in the End of the Millennium Sonic Innovation Awards. From derivative to definitive.
They’re always surprising. In early 1990, when the rest of Youthsville UK was busy baggying out, they released ‘Soon’. Far from the then-fashionable indie funk, far from. anything, in fact, it was like an indie version of a techno record — simple, repetitive, unyielding, with a guitar refrain that was destined to lodge under your skin.
If there’s an over-used description it’s ‘narcotic’; if there’s a buzz-word it’s ‘heaven’. Whichever way you look at it, My Bloody Valentine and their heredity are about expansion, elevation and exploration. Of their contemporaries only Primal Scream have periodically re-invented themselves as successfully. .
Like The Jesus and Mary Chain before them and The Stone Roses since, My Bloody Valentine’s status has been founded by one album — in their case the 1988 release Isn’t Anything. At the time it was out on a limb, completely beyond reference. Songs were twisted out of shape by distorted grunge guitars lurching along at pavement level, while Kevin Shield’s listless vocals sparred with Bilinda Butcher’s voluptuous whoops. Isn’tAnything knew the meaning of intoxication. Many were converted and it became a blueprint. With hindsight, we can reclaim the old adage ‘ahead of its time’, because in 1991 we see the upshot of its groundbreaking guitar experiments in a host of young bands, and hear in this year’s consistent follow-up, Loveless, the irony
that My Bloody Valentine have now made a totally contemporary-sounding album.
And so the group find themselves in the bizarre position of being observers of their inﬂuence while still extant themselves. ‘ Should they choose to trundle along to, say, the Camden Underworld of an evening, they could find any number of groups plying their trade in the wake of Isn’t Anything, and understand how pervasive the sound of one album can be. Or they may stumble across Bexley Heath hairies Midway Still tearing up the stage with a thunderous garage rendition of ‘You Made Me Realise’ and discover that imitation need not be the sincerest form of ﬂattery. And if you think the spread of post-Valentines syndrome is getting a bit ridiculous, remember that’s just the way it is. Popular music is regurgitated. At one point My Bloody Valentine were dead ringers for The Cramps, then they transmogrified into a sort of Monkees for the mid-80$. They once wrote a song called ‘Can I Touch You’ which from any angle you care to take it was The Beatles’ ‘Rain’. But now their legacy is assured.
The rise to their current zenith has been a six-year learning process. Somewhere along the line, My Bloody Valentine stopped following standards and started setting them. Sunny, janeg guitars became heady grinding swoons. Songs about love became songs about sex. (Let’s face it — it doesn’t take the most salacious of minds to decipher ‘Soft As Snow [But Warm Inside]’.)
One of the reasons for the greatness of their evolution is that the group were afforded the time and space in which to uncover their talents, unlike their young heirs who have been forced to do their growing up in public, a spotlight and a microscope trained on their every movement by a press and an audience who want brilliance on tap and who want it now. Shutting their door to the world for three
years, they have been free to create away from prying eyes, letting their disciples chew over the two interim EPs Glider and Tremolo and nurse rumours of outrageous recording budgets.
Perhaps they’ve had it easy, perhaps
they’ve been coddled. Are they at the stage
where they’re beyond reproach? It seems
the day is fast approaching when My Bloody
Valentine will be unknockable, to question them will be heresy. But then Loveless hits the turntable and niggles are blasted skyhigh. Unlike the shaky ‘Tremolo’ (no pun intended) there can be no question of the Emperor’s New Clothes here. Devotees bow down obsequiously to the latest lavish creation while a lone voice of reason pipes that there’s no substance there. My Bloody Valentine may work by suggestion, but strip away the perversion and peer through the ether that is their hallmark, and we’re talking melodies. Not yer common or garden tunes either, but truly beautiful melodies. looping and diving where you least expect them to.
So up to a point Loveless does follow the rulebook. There’s nothing structurally askew. and there is a massive sense of pop heritage in tracks like ‘Blown A Wish’ — The Shangri-Las put through the mincer basically, with only Chapterhouse’s ‘Treasure’ coming close in the rapture stakes. But none of this is to deny that what they do to their guitars stuns. The band maintain (rather fancifully it would seem to a layman’s ears) that the effects pedal is not their lifeblood, yet they still manage to push basic chords into uncharted regions. Imagine that time of night when a radio station comes off the air, and a host of foreign gatecrashers swoop in and out of that wavelength. My Bloody Valentine capture that haze of competing noises. Yet at other times they’re as incisive as the point ofa freshly sharpened Stanley knife.
A recent NME photo session had the band pictured through a sheet ofcellophane. That’s them in essence: ostensibly like any other pop band until you hit that veneer of impenetrability. My Bloody Valentine are the band who always have you looking for the ﬂuff at the end of your stylus.
My Bloody Valentine'play the Barrowland, Glasgow on Thurs 12 with Teenage Fanclub.
lThe List 6- 19 Decembcr1991