In their early years, it was easy to dismiss My Bloody Valentine as just another cutie band, anoraked, bobbed and locked into an indie obsession with a 60s ideal of perfect pop on singles like “Sunny Sundae Smile”. Then in 1987 founder member Dave Conway left and was replaced by Bilinda Butcher, who reportedly wowed the group’s Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Coisóig and Debbie Googe by singing Dolly Parton’s “Bargain Store” at her audition.
In their early years, it was easy to dismiss My Bloody Valentine as just another cutie band, anoraked, bobbed and locked into an indie obsession with a 60s ideal of perfect pop on singles like “Sunny Sundae Smile”. Then in 1987 founder member Dave Conway left and was replaced by Bilinda Butcher, who reportedly wowed the group’s Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Coisóig and Debbie Googe by singing Dolly Parton’s “Bargain Store” at her audition. By the time the four-piece erupted on stage at Creation Records’ sweaty Doing It For The Kids event at London’s Town & Country Club in summer 1988, they had arrived at a place much closer to freak-rockers like Dinosaur Jr and Mudhoney. Except that where those American groups seemed to be sliding down a slope towards sleepy oblivion or lumpen rockism, MBV were possessed of a nervy, wired energy.
Even when they were singing of soporific/narcotized dreamstates, they seemed to be conscious of the moment: when you wake, they said, you’re still in a dream. And they were no longer singing about sunny sundae smiles and strawberry wine, but sex, self-harm and clinical depression. Like the Mary Chain, they buried gorgeous melodies in veils of hiss and distortion, but unlike the Reid Bros, they didn’t have that retro rock ’n’ roll/surfadelic thing going on. It must be one of the most remarkable reinventions in rock history.
What good can come of remastering My Bloody Valentine’s albums? The sound of their Creation releases is the polar opposite of all that such reconstructions attempt to unpick. The music’s surface seethes like bees fighting for the queen: it’s a sonic miasma, a hemorrhage of peaking-light overdrive. Voices buzz deep in the mix; guitars shiver and swarm. The ‘holocaust’ at the heart of “You Made Me Realise” – title track of the first Creation EP – is the ultimate anti-guitar solo: a gaping wind-tunnel howl of mounting inertia in which the group seem to drop away completely (they famously extended this abstract void to 15 or 20 minutes on stage, to the detriment of a generation’s eardrums). Loveless was recorded in mono. By its very nature, you’re never going to get clarity on the hazed instrumental mix, but I certainly feel I can hear more of what they’re singing about on these new editions.
Unexpectedly, it’s 1988’s Isn’t Anything that comes off worst from the swab-down. Its initial strangeness now just sounds like a ramshackle tryout for what was to follow. Sure, “Lose My Breath” and “No More Sorry” are smouldering beauties, highlighting Butcher’s extinguished-torch vocals, and “I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It)” is a weirdly dignified take on dysfunctionality. But part of the deadly effect of “Sueisfine” was knowing that they were actually singing “suicide” even if the text was buried in the maelstrom. Now you can actually hear the words.
It’s 1991’s Loveless – presented here in two versions, mastered from ‘original tape’ and ‘original ½ inch analogue tape’, if you can appreciate the difference – that holds its own as one of the great rock albums, period. Recorded over three years, largely by Shields alone, its extensive ‘glide guitar’ and curious lack of low end add up to a soundworld no one could ever hope to replicate. “Only Shallow” opens with a grunge-grind, sampled guitars baying like horns, Colm Ó Ciosóig and Debbie Googe’s rhythm section scooping out deep furrows. “To Here Knows When” remains a masterly aural hallucination, its instrumental balance utterly unprecedented in rock. The guitars are ablaze, a constant alarm note sounds throughout the song, which otherwise trundles along over a programmed rhythm. Only Fennesz has since captured this sense of flaring embers, of a music glowing brightest even as it burns itself up. “Come In Alone” could have gone on forever, Shields spilling Television-style ropes of neon solo over its repetitive coda. “Soon” spot-welded the MBV tincture to an urgent hiphop beat, pointing to a future that never arrived.
Loveless took a hefty bite out of Creation’s finances and a new deal with Island proved barren. Savour the music on these releases for what it is: a white dwarf that took three years to collapse.