Released in 1991 and reissued last month in a hotly anticipated two-disc remastered edition that’s (of course) available only as a U.K. import, Loveless is hardly obscure if you happened to care about alternative rock back when the name Dave Kendall still meant something. The brilliantly bald rock theoretician Brian Eno once said that Loveless “set a new standard for pop”; conversely, brilliantly bearded jam-band instrumentalist Trey Anastasio called it the best album of the ’90s. Loveless didn’t go wide, but where it hit, it penetrated deeply. It has sold in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million copies, and influenced almost as many bands.
For everybody else: My Bloody Valentine is a four-piece group from Dublin, Ireland, headed up by a perfectionist genius named Kevin Shields. When My Bloody Valentine was at its creative peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was well regarded by those interested in anti-commercial European art-rock combos. But MBV didn’t become legendary until it entered an extended hiatus after the release of Loveless, the group’s second full-length album. (This hiatus continues to this day, though a new My Bloody Valentine album and EP are supposedly on the way later this year. If you’re new to Loveless, you’ve discovered it just in time to be disappointed by whatever Shields puts out next.)
As anyone familiar with the record’s oft-told legend will tell you, Loveless was recorded in 19 different recording studios over the course of two years. Shields hired and fired a battery of engineers in a maniacal pursuit to capture the sound rattling in his head, and in the process spent so much money that he nearly bankrupted his label. This might make Shields seem like some kind of single-minded weirdo visionary in the mold of Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett. But Loveless was merely the work of an imaginative sonic architect who trial-and-errored his way to inventing a whole new way for a guitar-based band to sound.
Listening to Loveless is not unlike the sensation of having just endured a two-hour sonic hurricane, then feeling an intense yet melodic pounding in your eardrums for the next week. And I mean that in the most pleasant way imaginable. What took so long for Shields to find in the studio was the ecstatic pleasure point buried in the suffocating psychic evisceration caused by pure unadulterated volume. On most rock records, the music drowns out the lyrics; on Loveless, the music drowns out the music. The songs are packed dense with multi-track vocals, distortion, tremolo guitar licks, drum loops, mechanical squeaks from robot zoo animals, the sweet moans of clouds mating, and other sound bites from a terrifyingly beautiful rapture. On many tracks, it’s as if the actual song that you assume is in the middle of all of this has been removed, and it’s just sonic detritus floating along in suspended animation, doing lovely little pirouettes and blowing peyote smoke rings.
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