Specificity can be a boon to music – the little lyrical details that make a song feel more real; the clarity of something in the mix bursting through the listener’s metaphorical fourth-wall – but a complete lack of it can be even more potent. Such is My Bloody Valentine’s power, perhaps; you can’t tell what the words are, everything is blurred and vague and indistinct, a rush of out-of-focus colour and emotion and sensation, which doesn’t describe so much as it creates or inspires. Even the song titles are so non-specific as to be almost meaningless most of the time.
Because of this elusiveness (Eno described “Soon” as “the vaguest music ever to have been a hit”), and, of course, the peculiar sonic aesthetic the band constructed on Loveless, it’s very easy to project oneself deeply into My Bloody Valentine’s music; whilst their oeuvre is instantly recognizable, it isn’t built on the charisma of the performer the way that much pop is. The thing that’s recognizable is the sound and the feelings it inspires. Which is why My Bloody Valentine’s music is so tied up with sex and dreams and the suggestion of feelings; like Voodoo by D’Angelo, the vocals are measured to completely avoid intrusion on the listener’s experience; the singer’s story is secondary to yours. The sound, in turn, is measured to envelop and control you; its coding is neither masculine nor feminine, neither progressive nor retro. I don’t play Loveless for the rush of singing along with a melody or to appreciate the craft and musicianship; I put it on to take me to the places it’s always taken me to, the places it’s had nearly 22 years to take everyone else who’s listened to and fallen in love with it to.
If Loveless was intended as some kind of ‘grand statement’ by Kevin Shields back in 1991 or not, I simply do not know. Intention is irrelevant; it’s had two thirds of my lifetime to assume the status of a grand statement, to become the totemic, untouchable, revered thing it has most undoubtedly become, to be euologised and mythologised and whispered about and passed on to people (with the caveat that “it’s meant to sound like that”) until the reality is hopelessly eclipsed by the reputation. Yes, Loveless is a wonderful record. No, it’s not the peak of all human endeavour. But mythology is a powerful thing.
And so to mbv, so lacking in specificity that it eschews capital letters, that the title is merely the shorthand acronym for the band’s name, that it took 20 years to make, that it arrived at midnight or thereabouts with no fanfare and no warning, that it is just a record, that it sounds exactly like you might have imagined a My Bloody Valentine record made 18 months after Loveless might have sounded, down to the mastering levels. A warming, beguiling, soothing blanket of sound that will be instantly recognizable and comfortable to a generation of indie people who fell in love with (and to) Loveless on a cocktail of acid and MDMA under the dread auspices of an uncaring Tory government, or however they listened to it, and wherever, and whenever.
I’ve listened to mbv about four times so far. The first listen was whilst I made an omelette, while I ate that omelette, and while I washed-up the omelette pan. I deliberately approached it in as sacrilegious a way as possible, to try and demystify it, to free it from expectation and history. When I first got into My Bloody Valentine, in about 1996, they were already a long-gone proposition, and I never expected or imagined that they’d manage to follow Loveless with another record. I remember playing it at a party once, and being asked to put something else on. I remember convincing someone I met online to buy it, and having to assure them that no, the CD almost certainly wasn’t warped. I remember thinking that the chord changes sounded more like gear changes, that the whole thing seemed to ooze or swoon or stream rather than sound like ‘real’ music. I remember countering people who professed that ‘real’ music was something to aspire to by saying that ‘unreal’ music sounded far more interesting to me, and thinking that this was probably it. Unreal.
So I don’t know what mbv is or what I think of it yet. I’m still not entirely sure what Loveless or Isn’t Anything are. I’ve had half my lifetime to engage critically and emotionally with their previous work, and I just can’t parse mbv yet. I doubt anyone can. For what it’s worth, one song has an almost hip-hop-like drum loop, which invites head-nodding, and which doesn’t seem all that strange or out of place. The second song has that jet-engine-taking-off sound run through it a couple of times. There’s an elongated ambient-ish piece, which surely must use synthesizers. There are beats which sound like the things Kevin Shields described working on in 1996, drum’n’bass progeny layered with sheets of this guitar, so rich in texture and internal harmonics. You can barely hear the voices and you certainly can’t make out the words. It could have been recorded mere days or months after Loveless or it could have been recorded last year. We may never know. It doesn’t feel like what My Bloody Valentine do or are has changed much, if at all. But over 20 years ago they hit on something that a lot of people loved dearly; finding something different that people might love as much would be almost impossible, as would recreating exactly what happened back then too. So we have this, which is almost the same, almost different, and now we have to take the time to get to grips with it.