In late 1991 My Bloody Valentine released their second, and what came to be, their final record – Loveless. At the time it was met with widespread critical acclaim and sounded like nothing that had come before it. Almost 20 years later, despite numerous attempts, nobody has been able to recreate the unique sound of Loveless – so what is it that makes Loveless a special record?
While working hard isn’t the only way to make it in the music industry, it is the only way to produce an album of such lasting magnitude. Kevin Shields, mastermind behind pretty much all of My Bloody Valentine’s cannon is a self professed perfectionist, his artistic vision and drive are overwhelmingly apparent on Loveless from the opening seconds. Colm Ó Cíosóig’s opening drum beats on ‘Only Shallow’ sound remarkably like a drum machine. Every beat sounds the same, Shields wanted organic drums to carry an almost mechanical sound, capturing the same timbre with every tap of the skin is near impossible, yet Shields perfectionism demanded it. It lays the groundwork for Loveless, an album built upon experimentation and strange sounds, grounded around solid drum work providing the glue for the different fragments of Shield’s brilliance.
The vocal delivery on Loveless also differs from prior My Bloody Valentine releases in that Bilinda Butcher sings the lower notes and Shields the higher notes. This provides intriguing harmonies that flow with the sweeping guitars on the record. On ‘What You Want’ it even becomes difficult to discern who is performing which vocal, which is perfectly fitting for the records overall sound.
The most important part of any My Bloody Valentine album is the guitar sounds. Loveless is by far the most experimental and successful of Shield’s guitar work. Rather than relying on technical knowledge like many acts of the era, Shield’s showed his vital understanding of sounds was more important than his technical proficiency by washing the album with heavy reverb, masses of delay and the constant rhythmic use of the tremolo arm to create what is known as a shimmer effect. It was the shimmer mixed with the feedback from amplifiers that gave Loveless such a unique sound, one that Shield’s himself even had difficulty recreating on stage. It is this guitar work that separates My Bloody Valentine from the ‘alternative’ pack. Music tends to sound very flat and static, especially in the digital age, but Loveless is a record that is very much alive. The guitars sound as if they are moving, creating a very intense experience, the sounds pulsating in and out create an odd multi dimensional musical experience that has never been paralleled.
Loveless sounds organic, it sounds natural, it sounds full of life in a way no other record since has. It has some of the most interesting and distinctive guitar work ever recorded and rightfully has gone down in history as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. Every music fan owes it to themself to listen to Loveless as soon as they possibly can.