Saturday, March 30, 2013

Album Review: My Bloody Valentine – mbv (2013)

The release of a brand new My Bloody Valentine album at the beginning of February created quite a stir. More than 20 years after the much feted Loveless (1991) was unleashed on an unsuspecting world we finally had the long promised follow-up. The reaction was entirely predictable, and MBV fans across the planet were once again able to indulge in a feeding frenzy of unrestrained adulation. But does the album – simply titled mbv – match the hype?

Well, I suppose I should start with a disclaimer: I’m not one of those fans. I quite like the band’s 1988 debut album Isn’t Anything, but I’ve never been overly passionate about Loveless, an album that seems to have taken on a life of its own since the relatively humble (if not muted) response it received at the time of its release.
And when I say I “quite like” Isn’t Anything, what I actually mean is that I quite like it as an album for a specific mood. Something to lose myself in when things aren’t going especially well – it might even be regarded as an “angry place” for me (layers of guitar, walls of feedback, best appreciated loud). Even at that, for such a mood, there are dozens of other albums I’ll turn to before Isn’t Anything.

So, I’m probably not what you would call an avid My Bloody Valentine fan. Over the years I’ve tended to regard the band (aka Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher, and friends) as being somewhat one dimensional. What they do, they do well, but the widely celebrated EPs and the two albums were more than enough. Did we really need, some 20-plus years on, a third offering of what amounts to pretty much the same thing again?

I recall reading some years back about Shields and the ongoing struggle he faced to produce an adequate follow-up to Loveless. From all accounts the man is a sonic perfectionist who set the bar so high, the whole thing wound up becoming impossible. Compromise, it seemed, was not a word he was familiar with. If it wasn’t just right, it wasn’t going to see the light of day. His efforts to replicate the “spirit” and energy of Loveless proved, um, fruitless. The band broke up in 1996, with the album “three-quarters finished”, Shields got on with his life, and that, we all thought, was that.

Then, in 2007, out of nowhere, Shields announced that MBV had reformed. By 2008, the band was very much in demand on the festival circuit; more often than not as headliners. Which is quite odd really, when you stop to consider that back in the day the words “My Bloody Valentine” were just as likely to have been found loitering amid the bill’s fine print. 

The return as a live outfit was an obvious catalyst for Shields revisiting the previously shelved material. He spoke candidly of the partially finished album at the time ... “it just got dumped, but it was worth dumping. It was dead. It hadn't got that spirit, that life in it” ... half a dozen years on, writing as an observer – rather than as a fan – it is difficult to see what has changed.
Same old MBV
Certainly there is nothing new to MBV’s approach on the new album ... layers of squalling slightly out-of-tune guitar (check), blurred vocals (check), heavy on over-dubbing and other assorted studio wizardry (check), and apart from one suspiciously “pop” sounding tune (a track called ‘New You’, which features Butcher on vocals), there’s very little on mbv that grabs me or excites me.

Popular music website Pitchfork – while rating the album a positively gushing 9.1/10 – made the following observation ... “through the 1990s Kevin Shields often talked about jungle, what it meant to him, and how some of the ideas behind it were making their way into a new (MBV) album. He was not alone in this, but mixing drum'n'bass' whooshing walls of percussion with oceanic shoegaze seemed a natural pairing” ...

Yet, for me, none of that actually rings true. Those guys must be listening to a different album. Those “ideas” aren’t immediately apparent on mbv. In terms of “drum’n’bass” and any variation thereof, all I personally hear is a muddy drum sound and a bass sometimes lost so deep in the mix as to render it almost superfluous. Basically, I just don’t get it.

The whole thing feels a little too heavily indebted to shoegaze’s early Nineties heyday for my liking. That’s perhaps understandable, but nothing really distinguishes it from past work, and if you ask me, this whole “new mbv” thing has turned out to be something of an anti climax. I’m only thankful I didn’t have any great expectations in the first place.

I’ll probably end up giving it another couple of spins in attempt to uncover whatever it is I’ve missed, but right now that doesn’t feel like an especially appetising prospect. Right now I’m struggling to see what others see, and it feels – as with Loveless – a little bit like I’ve been excluded from someone’s special secret.

Here's 'She Found Now' ...

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