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My Bloody Valentine

Isn't Anything / Loveless / EPs 1988-1991


[Sony; 2012]

By ; May 9, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

It seems somehow disturbing to finally have the My Bloody Valentine reissues. After a gestation period which made the original recording of Loveless look like an example of Minutemen-style frugality, and including an alleged two-year hiatus waiting for Kevin Shields to finish the liner notes, that these records are finally around seems like a triumph in itself. It isn’t Chinese Democracy, but more than four years from announcement, no matter how good the remaster, seems a tad slow. There’s another catch, too: what was apparently once meant as a four-disc set for the EPs has been trimmed down to just two, collecting only the band’s last four EPs along with some rarities. That has to go down as an opportunity missed, as there’s a wealth of great material on the earlier EPs, which remain frustratingly difficult to find except on some vinyl compilations of dubious legality (which is not to say that I don’t recommend them). Maybe it’s due to Kevin Shields’ understandable unwillingness to play up the stereotyped twee-pop image of those EPs, but it’s a shame in what looks like such an all-encompassing project not to have the sheet-metal psychedelia of “Lovelee Sweet Darlene” or the necrophiliac pop of “Paint a Rainbow.” That minor gripe aside, along with the omission of a vinyl reissue, these reissues do mainly live up to the prolonged anticipation.

The EPs collection is something of a mixed bag, as is the case with most similar odds and ends sets. The EPs themselves, especially You Made Me Realise, are (like all three of these releases) pretty much essential for anyone with any kind of interest in guitar-based rock. As well as pointing the way forward to the more famous albums, both You Made Me Realise and Feed Me With Your Kiss showcase some of MBV’s best songwriting. You Made Me Realise is the more innovative of the two, showing a lot of progression from the band’s previous records. The title track turns the fuzzy pop formula of the band’s previous work upside down, with suspended chords hammered repeatedly home with unrestrained force. The rest of the EP tones down the violence a bit, with Thorn providing another indiepop highlight, and cookie-cutter template for plenty of copyists, along with the trademark MBV touch of combining innocent-sounding vocals with the most graphic lyrics. Feed Me With Your Kiss (not an EP proper but an extended single from the Isn’t Anything sessions) provides more of the same progression.

The other two EPs collected here, Glider and Tremolo, are different in that they feel like complements to the albums rather than stepping-stones. Where You Made Me Realise and Feed Me With Your Kiss felt like the products of a band developing its sound faster than they could get it on tape, always moving forward toward the same goal, these EPs are more appendices, interesting curiosities but less necessary. Each has a song from Loveless (with an interesting extra dreamy instrumental section on the end of the Tremolo version of “To Here Knows When”), but the feel is very different to what they’d achieve on that album itself. On a few of these songs, as well as on rarity “Instrumental #2,” there’s an unexpected focus on danceable beats. It’s indicative of Shields’ interest in that scene, but it’s only really reflected in “Soon” from Loveless. The rest of the various rarities here (including a full ten-minute version of “Glider,” perhaps the band’s most abstract and drone-focused track) are interesting for fans, but largely inessential. Shields said in an interview as part of this process that looking back at these unreleased tracks made him realise how much better the tracks for the follow-up to Loveless are: we can only hope he’s right (and, of course, that he ever actually finishes them).

Isn’t Anything is the real suprise of this set of reissues, and not just because it’s by far the most dramatically improved-sounding of the three. Rather, understanding it in the context of the EPs released before and after, what’s immediately striking is the restraint. Midway between the angle-grinding fuzz guitars of the early pop and the walls of guitar distortion that characterise Loveless, the songs here are sparser and less immediate, rewarding repeated listens. The snare drum hits opening “Soft as Snow (but Warm Inside)” sound a lot like those on “Only Shallow” three years later, but from that common starting point the albums go in drastically different directions.

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago which I preferred, I’d have said Loveless, without a doubt; but while that album’s undoubtedly more groundbreaking and just sonically stunning, Isn’t Anything hangs together just as well. The songs are better than those on the more celebrated Loveless: the yearning vocal on “Cupid Come” is one of Shields’ best vocal performances, more affecting for its clarity against sparse and angular rhythm guitar and some trademark Shields glide lines. That’s not to say that this album isn’t heavy; in keeping with the direction they were developing in live performances of the period (culminating in the infamous “holocaust” section of “You Made Me Realise”), songs like “You Never Should” have the same kind of distorted guitar textures as contemporaries Dinosaur Jr. were popularising across the Atlantic. The reissue of Isn’t Anything brings out the clarity of the recording nicely, without losing too much of the claustrophobic intesity which is so important to the album’s atmosphere.

And so, Loveless. Aside from a couple of miscellaneous tracks the second album was the last thing they released, and it was so well-received then and in the last twenty years that it casts a shadow across their whole career. Even in trying to review their earlier material, it’s hard to look at it without seeing Loveless as an obvious culmination to their whole career; at the same time both logical and completely unique. It’s hard to write too much about Loveless without descending into the kind of music-critic self-parody referenced by UK shoegaze label Sonic Cathedral, so I won’t try. I’ll just say that while others have taken the sound palette created here further into the realms of abstraction (bands like lovesliescrushing), or worked within the same idiom to ever-decreasing effect (a legion of current shoegazers), no-one’s ever really captured the blend of dream-pop atmospherics and crushing harmonic distortion to quite such perfect effect. Although it’s a myth that there are thousands of guitar tracks on Loveless (just a few in each song, processed and reprocessed to achieve the desired effects), the sheer density of sound on the record means that the remastering job is not as apparent here as on the earlier material. And one of the selling-points of the reissue – the previously unheard master of the album based on the analogue tapes – is, to be honest, not massively different from the original. Both versions sound significantly louder than the old CD master, and generally more immediate. Of the two, the “new” version is perhaps a bit more restrained and subtle at times. But really, for an album like Loveless the difference is neither especially noticable nor especially important.

It seems unlikely that Loveless can have any more influence than it already has, but what all three of these reissues demonstrate is that these records are still incredibly vital, essential and contemporary. And if it takes four years to remind the world of that (which, to judge by MBV’s unaccustomed appearances in various newspapers, it has), then it’s probably still worth it.

Isn’t Anything: 95%

Loveless: 100%

EPs 1988-1991: 85%

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