It’s been nearly 10 days since My Bloody Valentine did the unthinkable and actually released the “follow-up” to Loveless. I put follow-up in quotes because it seems like the statute of limitations should run out if your next album doesn’t come out within, oh, say, 20 years of the precedent. But all the same, the next album in the My Bloody Valentine discography has been downloaded by thousands (millions?) and we’re left with nine good-to-incredible songs and a need for a new longing, perhaps for a new Pixies album or that Goonies sequel.
I could attempt to straight-up review m b v, but I don’t think I want to do that. I’d rather just state some facts…a word that probably deserves the same quotation marks as “follow-up,” but whatever.
First off, before we go anywhere near the new material, I must state that this band’s street cred-to-horrible band name ratio is off the charts.
Seriously, how the band isn’t laughed out of the room for its name alone is a small miracle. Not only does it sound like something the nerds in Fall Out Boy or My Chemical Romance might have gone with had it been available, this three-word sequence also served as the name for a terribly cheesy 1981 horror flick that decided to put a deranged miner armed with a pick axe in the role of the killer. (I watched this movie repeatedly as a preteen thanks to USA Network, I should add.) Then again, Hollywood remade said movie as recently as 2009…
(My Bloody Valentine leads my list of high street cred/horrible band name, followed closely by Vampire Weekend, Japandroids, Hooray for Earth, and Black Moth Super Rainbow. Meanwhile, I’ve always found Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, Interpol, Stereolab, and A Tribe Called Quest to be among the coolest band names ever.)
But more specifically related to the new album…
The best song on the album is clearly either “In Another Way” or “Wonder 2.”
Note that both “Best Song” candidates fall within the last third of the album, the third that seems to either wow or worry fans of the band. I’m clearly in the former camp. “In Another Way” soars in a way that reminds me of “Soon” from Loveless. Instead of the dance-y beats and long guitar plunges of that tune, “In Another Way” uses an overarching synth line and a propulsive stutter of guitar to take the listener to near-all-time heights.
This vibe comes in between cooing verses provided by Bilinda Butcher (and you can’t describe Butcher’s vocals without using the word “coo”), where the guitar has similar tones but a different feel. And all the while, the drums (yes, the drums!) shove you forward like they haven’t since pre-Loveless days. Colm O’Ciosoig hadn’t seen this much volume above the surface since Isn’t Anything tracks like “Nothing Much to Lose” or “(When You Wake) You’re Still in a Dream” (“Only Shallow” from Loveless is a notable exception, I’ll admit). It might be my favorite My Bloody Valentine song ever; it might be my second-favorite on the new album.
That’s because of the album closer, “Wonder 2,” which to me sounds like the heir to the “You Made Me Realise” throne in terms of songs that could become the freakout centerpiece of live shows. The swirling sounds and Kevin’s vocals ascend for nearly six minutes, punctuated with powerful bursts of guitar hysterics and 300-beats-per-minute drums (an educated guess on the tempo) that add a sense of power and dread.
Unlike some people I know (*cough cough Sam cough cough*) I won’t disqualify a song from being top-shelf material if Bilinda isn’t singing. I think Kevin’s voice works well within the confines of MBV music, especially from Loveless and going forward. That’s not to say that I would rather hear Kevin sing on “Lose My Breath” or “To Here Knows When” or “Loomer” but I think he’s equally up to the task on “Soon” or “Sometimes” or “Who Sees You.” And honestly, it’s hard to say who’s singing on songs like Loveless’ “Come In Alone” or m b v’s “Only Tomorrow.”
“If I Am” and “New You” fit nicely alongside other present-day indie-rock pop songs.
These songs sound like something you’d find in heavy rotation on Sirius XMU. While Loveless didn’t include songs that were this straightforward in terms of pop friendliness, the band was making these kinds of songs around that time. Look at the invaluable B-sides on the Glider and Tremolo EPs and you’ll find songs in a similar vein: “Honey Power,” “Swallow,” “Don’t Ask Why.” The same can be said about songs on the 1988 You Made Me Realise EP: “Cigarette in Your Bed” and “Drive It All Over Me” quickly come to mind. Not to mention gems such as “Bilinda Song” that were found on the Unreleased and Rarities compilation that circulated online during the lengthy hiatus period.
That these new songs are found not on EPs but on the LP itself speaks to my next point…
m b v succeeds despite not being a singular statement.
Yes, my two favorite albums of all time, The Cure’s Disintegration and MBV’s Loveless are certainly monolithic, but for an album to be great it need not sound alike all the way through. Consider that Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and The Beatles are two albums that hold lofty status in my rankings…two albums that certainly meander around in terms of style but not in substance.
And that’s what you get here. On Loveless, you know you’re listening to Loveless; on m b v, you know you’re listening to My Bloody Valentine. The band felt comfortable releasing these nine songs as the next definitive collection, because they felt strongly about the content being solid, not fretting about the need for them to sound “same-y.”
One last point: My Bloody Valentine can still make a mean instrumental track.
Sandwiched between my two favorite tracks on m b v is “Nothing Is,” an intense repetition of instrumental bliss. While it is not necessarily stylistic twins with anything MBV had done previously, it’s a standout track, just as “Instrumental B” was in the late 1980s. For the uninitiated, “Instrumental B” (along with another good track, titled–surprise–“Instrumental A”) lived on a bonus 7″ single packaged inside the first 5,000 copies pressed of Isn’t Anything. “Instrumental B” was as wonderful as it was simple: the drum beat from Public Enemy’s “Security of the First World” was sampled, and squalls of guitar played over the top. That’s it. But it’s a wonderful idea, and even more so when you contrast it against the other way this particular drum beat was used: sampled by Madonna for her also excellent single “Justify My Love” (two years after MBV did “Instrumental B,” it should be noted).
(“Instrumental A” and, for certain tastes, the title track to the Glider EP, are guitar collages that are musts for MBV fans, but “Instrumental B” has greater potential for crossover appreciation.)
“Nothing Is” cranks up the drums (somewhat of a theme for m b v, one might say) and spends nearly four minutes punching you in the gut and kicking you in the head and makes you want to drive really fast or double your pace on the elliptical trainer or type like a madman while working/checking Facebook/whatever you do on a computer. Or maybe even fuck like mad. I don’t know; haven’t tried m b v for mood music yet.
It is not your typical My Bloody Valentine song, to be sure, but that’s the whole point of releasing a follow-up to Loveless, isn’t it? The band will always be best known and most revered for what it did on Loveless but this band’s talent and vision was far greater than its previous output. They needed to do m b v far more than we needed to hear it.
And because of that, they made a record that everyone needs to hear.
Even if the band name still kinda sucks.