What's more surprsing: that a third My Bloody Valentine album now actually exists, or that it's not all that far removed from where Loveless left off?
By God, it actually happened. They actually did it. For two decades Kevin Shields’ eternally on-the-horizon projections for a prospective third My Bloody Valentine LP grew to be increasingly fanciful. It got to a point where a website titled isthenewmybloodyvalentinealbumoutyet.com sprang up. Until recently, said site only consisted of the word “NO” plastered on a single page. When back in November Shields had the gall to say that they were (in his words) halfway through mixing that mythic third album, I guffawed.
Yet over the weekend Shields and Co. finally delivered. Websites were crashed, petitions to heads of state were instigated, and at least two generations of indie music fans made a collective “squee!” sound. The group’s last album, the 1991 landmark shoegaze opus Loveless, took about two years and a squadron of studio hands to piece together. The end result utterly reinvented a genre My Bloody Valentine had more or less invented in the first place, and has become a familiar sight on “best albums of all time” lists. If you care one iota about My Bloody Valentine, chances are you’ve already acquired your own copy of the unassumingly titled m b v and are quickly solidifying your own opinions on an LP that beat out Chinese Democracy in the “obscenely long overdue follow-up” sweepstakes. That’s cool -- you should be excited, basking in the glowing aftermath of this day many have wished for but were never entirely sure would come. The question of “is it any good?” is largely academic at this juncture.
But is m b v any good, really? Well, yeah, actually, it is. Not to mention even after countless second-wave shoegaze and nu-gaze musicians spent the last 20-odd years copying and strip-mining Loveless, My Bloody Valentine crafting an album that sounds undisputedly like something only this band could make is a tiny victory worth applauding. From the very first crackle of guitar distortion, the authorship is unmistakable, and devotees of Loveless will come face-to-face with the familiar charms of amorphous textures more akin to whales crying than the sound of conventional guitars, as well as Shields and Belinda Butcher’s soothing coos through the ether.
However, don’t come into m b v expecting another masterpiece. It’s a good album, but not a great one, and though the long tail of history will eventually render such a long production time moot, it’s certainly not a record justifying the ludicrous wait. Take away the distance and compare m b v to Loveless (as well as its predecessor, Isn’t Anything), and it comes up short. Where Isn’t Anything and Loveless were bold steps forward, m b v is a holding pattern, maintaining a style certain to please those who desperately craved Loveless, Pt. 2.
m b v is largely defined by how is draws upon on the dreamier aspects of Loveless, its nine tracks drifting along for interminable lengths on a firm bedding of gauzy guitars. It’s very much mood music, with little touches (“She Found Now”’s disconcerting harmonic changes, the soaring overdub straight out of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that streaks across “Only Tomorrow) tasked with performing the outsized duty of keeping the songs interesting. In fairness, m b v isn’t solely pretending that the last 20 years in music didn’t happen. “New You” has a sunny lilt to it evocative of the more forward-thinking end of Britpop, while Colm Ó Cíosóig lays down rumbling jungle rhythms for “In Another Way”. Funnily enough, if judged solely by what’s heard on the record, the biggest influence on My Bloody Valentine over the past two decades has apparently been Stereolab, whose lounge-disco cool is discernibly evoked in “Is This and Yes” and “If I Am”.
Tedious closers “Nothing Is” and “Wonder 2” aside, m b v convincingly maintains My Bloody Valentine’s mystique without sullying it. Yet did this record really require so many years of effort? Did Kevin Shields really need to scrap an album’s worth of material before putting together what is essentially a reprise of Loveless? And considering all the expectation and the enormity of My Bloody Valentine’s influence on alternative rock music from 1991 to now, has m b v been worth all the wait. The answer, if it is to be summed up with a webpage image, would include the word “No”. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth a listen or five, heavens no. Once the dust settles, we’ll probably all see m b v in much the same light, as a laudable re-flexing of musical muscle, a warm-up of old routines that reminded everyone of what was so appealing about this gang of shoegazers in the first place. And hopefully whatever’s next will be another great leap forward instead of a lovely yet customary lap around a familiar track.