WHAT YOU WANT - A Personal View of My Bloody Valentine

Winter 1991: It's snowing. I'd just got back together with my girlfriend and she came over to my apartment in one of the less savoury parts of the city. She came in, dumped her coat on the sofa and lit a cigarette. I'd been listening to Loveless and when Touched was finishing she said that it sounded like the cry of a wounded dinosaur. During To Here Knows When she put her cigarette out and said "Are we gonna fuck or what?"

I'm sure you'll forgive me, dear reader: I took My Bloody Valentine off the record player because my then girlfriend, for all her faults, was the best lover I've ever had. The rest of that wonderful winter afternoon was - well, Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside).

In 1991 MBV were the biggest band on Alan McGee's Creation label. (He later signed pub rock 60s wannabees Oasis - in the words of MC Honky, "What a bringdown.") After two years and 250,000 dollars spent on their new album, MBV were the great white hope - they'd bring not only critical acclaim but drag Creation out of debt too. The story goes that when Alan McGee first heard To Here Knows When, he disappeared for three days, convinced that he and Creation were terminally financially fucked.

True or not, in some ways it's a perfectly understandable response. Listening to the vertiginously distorted track on the Tremolo EP I was wondering if my record player was broken beyond repair. I'd never heard such majestically fucked-up sound since The Velvets' I Heard Her Call My Name or Public Image's Chant.

I'd always liked MBV before, but Loveless was an incredible advance on Isn't Anything. Most bands plod along doing variations of their first album, but the difference between MBV between 1989 and 1991 was radical - but not unexpected. The clues are all there. Kevin Shields' production was amazing - as amazing as Joe Meek, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Keith Levene, Martin Hannett... I'm sure you understand what I'm trying to say. This was a glimpse of something that had not been heard before. It's a tragedy MBV didn't do one more album, though it's rumoured they did.

MBV brought a female energy to the previously masculine domain of rock. Their music has an intimacy, a rush, a sense of openness to new ways of listening which wasn't there before. The vocals are buried deep in the mix, the lyrics become half-dreaming overheard murmurs, the fragmented sound hovers on an imagined border between implosion and explosion.

"Languor has been written out of modern pop" wrote Simon Reynolds in Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock. It's true. Even today (maybe even especially today) languor isn't encouraged - we live in a hypnotic society which doesn't induce daydreaming (Eros) but staccato nightmares designed to keep you blinking and awake (Thanatos.) Songs like Lose My Breath and Sometimes recuperate something that's being lost, and not just in pop. It isn't music that clamours for your attention like a Hollywood trailer or a bleary-eyed whore at King's Cross. True love is elsewhere; you may look for it or it may find you.

Kevin Shields is still doing the occasional piece of music (I'm sure you've all seen Lost in Translation by now) but as for MBV and "Where are they now?" Well, last summer three of them (Shields, Bilinda Butcher and Colm O'Ciosig) were in Berlin re-recording songs from the Glider EP with (possibly) some new material. Is it true? I don't know. MBV released their first EP in Berlin in 1984, so there's a kind of symmetry to it.

Live in hope: You never know.

-Andrew Russell

/feb 1st 2004/