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

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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 www.mybloodyvalentine.net: "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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27 comments
1234
1234

Everything the author says is old news to any MBV fan. Personally i believe Loveless is only the band's second best effort, with  Isn't Anything being my favorite MBV album and on my all time top 5.

oliver
oliver

hahaha find something better to do

Travis
Travis

I liked the album without knowing any of the backstory or praise it received. Someone just told me, "Hey, I think you would like this band." And I did. I don't try to pick out what Kevin Shields did in the studio when I listen to Loveless, I just appreciate it as it is. You listen to critics such as this blogger, or other online publications before you listen to the music itself, then you will never know what you think of the music through your own ears.

Tom Reid
Tom Reid

When I started playing guitar I was blown away when I learned how relatively simple the songs are, that's another part of the genius, making the everyday amazing. As for the lush language... well music describes and portrays that which we have no words for, and Loveless tapped into something I fell most of us have never really figured out but we rejoice in. 

Yakov Lavan
Yakov Lavan

Loveless was released at a time when I was absolutely swimming in new music. So many incredible acts were popping up everyday. When Loveless came out, I (and everyone I knew) was floored. This album, so infused with other worldly beauty and subliminal sexuality was unlike anything to have ever graced our ears. Everything that I would ever hear again would have to live in the shadow of that single release. But, you know... now that I think about it, I guess he didn't use enough guitars. You're right, it sucks.

Anonymous
Anonymous

So you think your douchey hipster band is better? Clearly someone thought they we're being funny here but the joke is on them, why would anyone take what some thick rimmed hipster ass monkey who writes for this rag mag seriously? This person is clearly an idiot and get off on pissing off people for stupid reasons.  

Anonymous
Anonymous

So you think your douchey hipster band is better? Clearly someone thought they we're being funny here but the joke is on them, why would anyone take what some thick rimmed hipster ass monkey who writes for this rag mag seriously? This person is clearly an idiot and the joke is on them.

Cal9434
Cal9434

 lol massive fail bro. the actual music points you made (2/4) are qualities that contribute to loveless's greatness, not detract. though this troll probably got you more hits than you've ever had, so i can respect that. but youre still dumb.

Banter
Banter

it's "audacity". use a dictionary.

tsquareblue
tsquareblue

Wow. Not only does do these "critiques" do nothing to make a dent in the status of Loveless as a classic album, but they also offer nothing interesting in contrast to the waves of praise the album has been receiving over the last few weeks due to the remasters. This might be the most incendiary and intellectually bankrupt album review I've ever seen. What would we expect though from someone who wrote an entire article about MMMBop as the greatest pop single in recent memory. Please, SF Weekly, there has to be someone better in the Bay Area to write for you. 

Teejones1766
Teejones1766

As someone already pointed out, had you ANY studio experience (think back to 4/8 tracking, old school in the '70's), you'd automatically know this.

aghiv
aghiv

I'll respond to each reason individually:

1)  Yes, the 'creation myth' has been widely overblown, but what does that have to do with the quality of the music.  Even if it did cost $250k and nearly bankrupt the tiny (at the time) Creation Records, scores of very very crappy records on major labels have had much, much more money spent on them. The amount of money spent is irrelevant.

2) If anything, this makes the achievement even more impressive. What sounds so incredibly complex and complicated is really just the use of some different tunings and a few well deployed effects.  Just because the ingredients are simple doesn't lessen the impact of the whole.

3)  Not every sound need Neal Peart style drumming and on Loveless it wouldn't have fit at all.  Should they have had Yngwie Malmsteen lay down a blistering solo right in the middle of Sometimes as well?

4)  Yeah critics can sometimes be rather pedantic, what does this have to do with the record itself?

Despite being incrediably influential, Loveless still sounds fresh and unique over 20 years later.  That alone makes it a classic in every sense of the word.

(WYW)YSIAD
(WYW)YSIAD

All four of these revelations should be no surprise to any MBV fan. But I thought one of the reasons that Loveless is so revered is precisely because Kevin Shields DIDN'T use waves and waves like overdubs, like all the dream-pop types that followed. I also have always thought that the sampled, programmed drums are kind of cool (see especially "All I Need" from the Isn't Anything album, and of course "Only Shallow"). Finally...the fawning over Loveless by its admirers is pretty lame when taken out of (drug-hazed) context, but what about the unavoidable fact that Loveless has been and continues to be highly influential? Loveless has served as a seminal departure point for bands ranging from Smashing Pumpkins to U2 to the Silversun Pickups (another band this critic might love to hate), so no wonder people get so excited about it.

Jillian Jean
Jillian Jean

Wow! You must be one of the biggest cunts ever. Thanks for sharing!

Ryan F.
Ryan F.

We're allowed to be critical of the things we simply adore. It's why we can disparage our favorite sports team or the weekly television program we tune into -- or sex with a loved one.

xgoutx
xgoutx

And your point is...what again? 

One would expect to find this sort knee-jerk exercise in contrarian futility among the musings of some would be blogger (or in the Comments section thereof), but its disconcerting to know this guy is being published properly. 

Kevin Shields Is A Genius
Kevin Shields Is A Genius

Contrarian and ignorant. You claim the album isn't as good as we think then right off the bat list two things that have nothing to do with how the album actually sounds. From the "it's cool to kill sacred cows" school of witty hipster irony.

This album changed my life and many other lives. There was nothing else like this in 1991. Clearly you don't get it, but don't delude yourself that your opinion is earthshaking in the light of well-deserved critical praise. Sorry, you're missing out.

You also don't get why the drums are recorded the way they are. Oops!

Pretentious douche? There's nothing more pretentious than attacking an album people love for very good reasons. It's a child crying to get attention. That's all. Pretty much nothing you mentioned has to do with the sound of the album, zero.

I'm tired of the contrarian school of 'look i'm so edgy.' Hipster irony and sarcasm is killing this generation. Anyone who spends time like this fucktard bashing people who care about an album and calling them 'pretentious douches' doesn't deserve to be reviewing music. You're wrong about Loveless and you probably know that. You just needed inkblot, as someone else said. "Ohhh, how cool, I'm gonna trash a brilliant album!" Sorry mate, take it from another music writer…that's pathetic.

fojimoto
fojimoto

All of this from the guy who in an earlier blog praised Hanson's MMMbop. 

Jake
Jake

Of course douches are going to talk shit or point out bad stuff about an amazing album. Ex. OK Computer is known as one of the greatest albums of all time, but many people find ways to dislike it, just because of the reason that it's praised.

Charmtrap
Charmtrap

Well, you know...Ryan Foley's shitty blog wasn't getting enough traffic.  He needed some linkbait.

Charmtrap
Charmtrap

Someone always has to poop on the great stuff.

Fswf
Fswf

Yeah the drum sound really fucks up that great album. What kind of garbage is this?

Andrew Wells
Andrew Wells

Can't wait for your next piece where you tear apart Joy Division's Closer for having poor drum miking techniques!!!

MT
MT

Sorry but most of us that have a clue and love this album already know about all the "myths" that you've "exposed". Also-The fact that Kevin DIDN'T use hundreds of guitar tracks to craft those songs even further illustrates his brilliance.

jpb
jpb

I think we found our instant douche right here... Please oh powerful music critic, tell us what we SHOULD praise instead.

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