Album Review: Loveless – My Bloody Valentine
Visceral; ethereal; overwhelming; primal; emotional. These are all words I would use to describe My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 release Loveless, which celebrates its 25th anniversary on November 4th (the occasion for this review). The album was met with critical acclaim upon its initial release, but never sold particularly well. It garnered a small cult following in the following years and has been inspiring many to pick up a guitar and turn the reverb up to eleven. Twenty-five years later, the album still sounds just as fresh and unlike anything else as it did upon release.
Very few albums snatch hold of and refuse to let go of my attention like Loveless does, from the opening snare hits and blast of sound in “Only Shallow,” to the New Wave-esque, almost club friendly beat on “Soon.” Loveless is an all-out assault on the senses, with the vocals competing for space with the heavily distorted guitars and pounding drums. The vocals are all but drowned out entirely by the rest of the noise in each song, making the lyrics practically indecipherable, but that’s the point. The songs don’t really “mean” anything; their purpose, rather, is to make the listener feel. Rather than transporting ideas and meaning, the songs transport emotions, they transport the listener to someplace else.
At first blush, one might not think of Loveless as a beautiful album mostly due to its distorted, hazy, and sludgy sound throughout the album. What may sound like a collection of grating noises is actually a painstakingly crafted wall of sound that guitarist Kevin Shields recorded over the span of two years and in 19 different recording studios.
Shields’ perfectionism resulted in a sound that is somehow a sensory overload, yet whisper quiet at the same time. The tracks “Only Shallow,” “When You Sleep,” and “Come In Alone” bludgeon the listener with their thickly layered guitar leads and melodies and refuse to relent even when the vocals enter the mix. But tracks like “Loomer,” “To Here Knows When,” and “Sometimes” lull the listener into an almost trance-like state with their repetition and relative calmness.
The album as a whole has a relatively chirpy and optimistic sound to it, as all the songs are in major keys. Despite this, the songs don’t really sound all that happy. There’s a sense of longing and wanting in each track, a trait most easily distinguished on the interlude “Touched”; the guitars resemble a groaning or weeping of some sort, and the synths have a somewhat of a downcast quality to them.
Loveless is an incredibly special album. The first listen can be disorienting, but it’s certainly worth taking the time to dig into it. There are so many nuances underneath the layers upon layers of fuzz and distortion. It’s the little things about this album that keep me coming back. It’s the chord progression on “Loomer,” the warped and wavering chords on “I Only Said” (an effect achieved by Shields’ bending of the tremolo arm as he strummed the guitar), and the feeling of nostalgia that washes over me during “Sometimes.” While it may not be for everyone, those that take the time to really dive deeper will fall in love with this album.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Only Shallow, Loomer, When You Sleep, I Only Said, Sometimes, Blown a Wish, Soon
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: none