Before anything, some backstory on this one might not be necessary, but it is certainly essential. In 1991, My Bloody Valentine, led by Kevin Shields, released the now legendary album Loveless. It was absolutely revolutionary; it would set the musical landscape of the entire following decade. Years later, it has been praised, worshiped, and placed on just about every “Best of the ‘90s” list there is. There is so much written about this classic album that it would be pointless to dwell on it here (and hopefully all of this is well-known already).
After Loveless, My Bloody Valentine disappeared. Shields overexerted himself working on new material, and within a year or two the band was just gone. That is, until a few years ago when they reunited to tour around the world. And in a recent concert, Shields told the crowd in passing that a new album would be out in a few days. Everyone thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
At midnight GMT on February 3rd, My Bloody Valentine released their first album in over twenty years, mbv. And now, after days of digesting this insane news and picking my jaw up the floor, it is time to take a closer look at the new release.
The first impression you get from mbv is that the tracks are out of order. The album’s opening track, “she found now,” seems to be picking up where another song left off and has a dissolving feel that makes it seem like a side A closer. This shaky, displaced feeling is perfect. Shields said in a Quietus interview that "it's not going to sound like Loveless where it's like looking into another world [...] more like Isn't Anything, where it seems to be of this world, but with one foot in another world." That one foot in another realm atmosphere is what mbv is all about, and it is laid on thicker than thick, like using whale blubber for a comforter. Thick atmosphere is what My Bloody Valentine is all about; it’s what makes them great. Few bands have the ability to actually transport you to a new setting, a new set of feelings, and if your thousandth listen of Loveless didn’t do this already, mbv is here to prove this technique that makes My Bloody Valentine so unique.
It’s surely trite by now to compare Kevin Shields to Brian Wilson, but with the release of mbv, it’s like he’s mocking us at this point. There’s no ignoring the similarities between the well-overdo releases of mbv and Wilson’s SMiLE from 2004. Hell, Shields even flat-out said that SMiLE heavily influenced mbv. Both records were lost in time, the makings of the greatest bands of their respective eras, but erased in the black hole that is the release of a game-changing, perfect, masterful, any-other superlative-you-want-to-throw-in, classic. And this analogical relationship between the two records makes mbv impossible to properly analyze.
See, it’s my dirty little secret that if I’m being honest and objective, I like SMiLE way more than Pet Sounds. And not in a guilty pleasure, “I know I’m wrong” kind of way, either. I think SMiLE is far and away the better of the two albums. But I recognize that Pet Sounds will always hold the title of “greatest” because of its timing, influence, and originality.
The point is, while I certainly don’t think mbv is better than Loveless the way I do with SMiLE and Pet Sounds, its place in time will forever keep it from being truly judged on its own merit. If it were somehow better than Loveless, chances are we wouldn’t see it. And even if we did, it would bring up the question: does it matter if a band who changed the art form releases another work in an environment that has already adopted their now legendary influence? Pile all of these temporal conundrums on top of the fact that a My Bloody Valentine album usually takes weeks to digest anyway, and you start to see that mbv eludes traditional examination.
But all of that aside, one can credit mbv for being a fantastic album. While its place in history may be tenuous, its quality is self-evident. It picks up where My Bloody Valentine left off, making you feel comfortable (or at least as comfortable as a My Bloody Valentine record can make you feel). It is mixed to perfection and composed with a mastery that can only be cyclically described as Shields-esque. The fact that mbv doesn’t disappoint speaks miles, considering the pressure of following up on of the greatest albums of all time. And the fact that we need to discuss how it compares to said great album should indicate how good mbv really is.