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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why My Bloody Valentine's Loveless Isn't as Good as You Think

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2012 at 3:30 AM

click to enlarge my_bloody_valentine_loveless.jpg

In the two decades since its release, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless has become a Teflon-coated favorite; sharp criticism of the album never sticks. So in honor of the '91 classic officially getting the remaster treatment this week (also slated for release: a remastered version of Isn't Anything, as well as a new compilation featuring the group's first four EPs, and rare and previously unreleased tracks), the cranky critic in us felt a need to counter the shower of superlatives. Here then are four reasons why the praise commonly heaped on Loveless is excessive.

1. The Loveless creation myth? Not all that mythical.

The second paragraph of Shields' obituary will mention that he pissed away $250,000 of Creation Records' money to produce Loveless, nearly bankrupting the label. Few music artists are so tightly connected to a particular narrative; few albums boast such an oft-cited backstory. The truth is, Shields' audaciousness in the name of art was hardly this heinous -- or this captivating.

In Mike McGonigal's book on Loveless for the 33 1/3 Series, Shields determinedly dispelled many of the album's creation myths. He did indeed studio-hop, finding himself perpetually unhappy with his workspaces. However, those studios were generally cheap to book. The band did spend rather lavishly, but other Creation artists were doing the same. Also, according to Shields, a licensing deal with Warner Brothers (which advanced £70,000 toward the project), as well as the return on investment for the cheaply produced Isn't Anything and the two pre-Loveless EPs, meant that the album's real cost was much less than the oft-quoted $250,000 figure.

So how did the story arise? "Alan McGee thought it would be cool," Shields told McGonigal in reference to all the Creation-is-in-the-red yarns. "He always exaggerates anyway, and he always said it will do you more good than harm." Then later: "We started the record with Creation literally being penniless." In other words, you can't go bankrupt when you're already there.

2. Peek behind the wizard's curtain and you'll be underwhelmed

The most unique and complex pieces of art spring from the most elaborate and ambitious methods, right? Loveless' now-legendary melodic maelstrom just had to be the product of dozens and dozens of overlaid guitar tracks, each one modified with various chorus units, flangers, and phasers, and then painstakingly pieced together by an individual who was nothing short of a noise superhero. (David Cavanagh's The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize contends that Shields could hear telephones ringing half a mile away.)

Not quite. Shields created the album's monolithic sound from his reliance on open tunings, heavy use of a modified tremolo arm, a Vox amplifier, and a bit of reverse reverb. That's basically it. Said Shields in McGonigal's book: "People were thinking it's hundreds of guitar tracks, when it's actually got less guitar tracks than most people's demo tapes have." I suppose that's like discovering that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes were done with a paint-by-numbers kit.

3. Yo, Goober! Where's the drums?

Over the years, there's been much hand-wringing over Loveless' subterranean vocals. However, Shields said his singing, as well as guitarist Bilinda Butcher's, was not buried as deeply in the mix as listeners think. From an interview posted on "I tend to put the guitars in the same stereo image as the vocal, with the vocal sharing pretty similar frequencies which merges the whole thing quite a bit."

The real quibble concerning Loveless' production should be over the drums. They make an ostentatious entrance on the album's opening track, "Only Shallow," retreat to the background after a few seconds, and largely remain there until the dance-inflected finale, "Soon." Equally as troubling is how slapdash they sound. Illness and personal issues forced drummer Colm O'Ciosoig to miss large parts of the production process, so drum tracks had to be cobbled together from various samples.

Not even the do-everything Shields could adequately fill the hole created by O'Ciosoig's absence. Said Butcher to McGonigal: "Kevin's not a drummer. He's got a good sense of rhythm, but he couldn't just take over for him and do his job."

4. Instant douche. Just add Loveless.

Read any of the endless fawning reserved for Loveless and you'd swear the album was the pinnacle of human achievement. Its sound has been described as "an erotic, androgynous blizzard of pink noise" and "a never-ending surreal dream that wavers like a curtain of colorful coral reefs." It's been dubbed a "landmark record in the evolution of the human consciousness" and "a door that separates the infinite from the finite." From a review on Amazon: "The intimacy is overwhelming, ambivalent, and transgressive of any subjectivity, suggesting something akin to an incestuous, narcissistic, or pre-Oedipal relation."

Clearly, Loveless has a way of bringing out the pretentious douche in all of us.

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Ryan Foley

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