The wait is over at last. It seemed like it would never really happen but, suddenly, somehow, My Bloody Valentine have put aside their perfectionism and actually released their long-awaited third album. It is literally impossible to measure my excitement and anticipation at the prospect of genuinely new material from Kevin Shields.
Twenty-two years is a long long time in music though, with the wait raising questions about whether these returning legends lost their luster in the interval.
The answer is an emphatic no. My Bloody Valentine are back sans none of their former majesty. I’m honestly staggered that I’m not even slightly disappointed by it. Twenty-two years of waiting and an impulse spend of £16 put a lot of weight on this album yet it’s been shrugged off with ease on an album that returns My Bloody Valentine to the forefront of alternative music, like an old master returning to show it’s apprentices how it’s really done. No one has even attempted to recreate what they did since they slinked off the scene and their return plugs a gaping hole. To say their sound is one of a kind is an understatement; we are talking about the most sonically bold band of the past 25 years.
At the heart of it all is the flawed genius of Kevin Shields, perfectionist extraordinaire and the last man to truly recalibrate what could be done with a guitar. The final three minutes of Only Tommorow form a revolving door of sonic splendour that testifies to the undiminished powers of guitar’s greatest performer of the past quarter-century. No one harnesses a guitar’s power quite like Shields and few dare to try. His reinvention of the possibilities of noise through his waves of guitar continues to form the backbone of MBV. Searing, beautiful and otherworldly it’s as enshrined in music history as Hendrix’s wah-wah or Slash’s fret pyrotechnics.
His playing has always had an almost impossibility of sound as he layers noise upon noise and this was what really set 1991 classic Loveless apart. This is diminished to an extent on m b v; it sounds more grounded and the ethereal otherness of Loveless isn’t quite there. It means the album doesn’t have the same force and impact that a first listen of its predecessor might instil. There’s no shock and awe, voice of God moments like Only Shallow’s thunderous opening (still perhaps the finest opening note in history, m b v’s equivalent is instead a slow uncurling that spells out a move away from sonic extremity ) or Soon’s sudden overflow of wailing guitar. But to say it isn’t as powerful and game-changing as Loveless feels like pointing out the obvious, I don’t think anyone expected them to return with quite that much of a bang.
This is still an incredibly good release though, one that stands head and shoulders above Isn’t Anything and may in fact be preferable to some put off by the extremeness of Loveless. In fact it’s perhaps their most accessible release to date, though that isn’t saying much. The album sits somewhere between their previous two, especially the first half. The second is a massively intriguing change of direction, even if it is only a slight one. The dance influence on Soon is drawn out even further to create some surprisingly groovy, propulsive sounds like those on New You, already an album highlight courtesy of some superb Colm O’Ciosoig drumming and a neat crossroad between the old and new.
As previously mentioned it isn’t as extreme as Loveless and Shields has swapped some of the cacophony of guitar for more immediate hooks and clearer melodies. Whereas one could only attempt to describe songs on Loveless through vague whooshing noises here it’s much closer to an easily definable tune. You could even whistle some if you want. On Is This and Yes there isn’t even any guitar. At all. Instead it’s more electronic, part of an ongoing experimentation with it that lends greater variety to the album compared to the roiling mass of Loveless. Though on album closer Wonder 2 it’s a return to good old fashioned blurry sounds. It’s as if someone took Shields, placed him in a wind tunnel with some jets flying about and just said: Go. It’s by far the most extreme track and perhaps the closest to Soon in its commitment to pure delirious noise.
But at the end of the day the real question is: is it as beautiful as always? Of course it is. It’s indescribably pretty at times and makes one wonder how we ever got by without MBV for the past two decades. At least they’re back now.