When you get down to it, it’s really very hard to describe something wonderful. The word itself doesn’t make it easy; it sits comfortably amongst ‘fantastic’, ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ and ‘terrific’ in the pantheon of useless descriptors. Ultimately these words fall flat when you really want to convey what it is that makes something so affecting. This is the problem that faces anyone trying to convey just what it is that makes My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless such a remarkable rock record, arriving in 1991 to be the second and – to date – final record by the Irish four piece. It is one of those records; commercially unsuccessful, critically adored, hugely influential, and inspiring a fierce devotion from those who fall under its spell. It’s a record that’s got something no other has, something that twists and turns when you try and pin it down. Really there’s no way to ‘get it’ other than to hear it, but you’re not going to do that without some motivation, some reason to hunt it down, crank the volume and press play. Pay attention.

Really, it all comes down to a guy called Kevin Shields. Loveless is the result of his vision, pursued over a two year gestation period fraught with the rising studio fees and label tension that are the making of any great, and distracting, back-story. He joins Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis in perhaps embodying the 1980s alternative rock cliché of quiet guys with ridiculously loud guitars. It is his compositions, his guitar, and above all, his sound that dominates the record, making it such a cohesive and singular work. The songs, and indeed the entire album, have a unified sound, clearly the result of endless studio tweaking, albeit with the aim of producing a completely un-commercial work. The record is by no means monochromatic, however. It shifts comfortably between the blissful rumble of ‘Loomer’, the stately crawl of ‘Come In Alone’ and various creepily-sweet instrumental passage constructed from sampled instruments mangled beyond recognition.  It is not a statement of intent. It is a statement of fact – this is Loveless, this is what it sounds like, it cannot exist in any other form.

 

 

Things kick off at their most extreme. Four gunshots from the snare and ‘Only Shallow’ explodes into being, as synths struggle and scream over a bed of electric guitars and a fuzz bass that is felt, not heard. The overall effect is of the world’s loudest rock band shorting out their amps as they try and drown out thirty burglar alarms with dying batteries. This number sets the template for what is to come – noise, noise and more noise. Loveless is a dense record, a tangled mass of breathy, androgynous vocals, dreamily distorted guitars, perpetually looping, vaguely danceable drums, and all manner of wailing and cooing lead instruments that could be synthesisers or the remnants of a guitar. Vocals are just another instrument – none of the songs contains a full set of intelligible lyrics, indeed for the majority of the record it is impossible to have any idea what Shields and fellow singer Bilinda Butcher are singing about. The voices, whether male, female or fused into a sexless blur, are either completely subdued in the mix or multitracked endlessly into incomprehensibility. Perhaps the most distinctive element of ‘the sound’ is Kevin Shields unique style of playing and recording guitar. Through alternate tuning and constant use of the tremolo arm – resulting in the guitar continuously going in and out of tune – he creates a thoroughly disconcerting and inimitable tone, making much of the record sound like the master tapes were left in direct sunlight for an extended period.

So on paper, then, it looks like a bit of a difficult listen. Noisy guitars that won’t stay in tune. Inaudible, creepily androgynous vocals. Drums that are either abrasive or whisper quiet. But it works. The songs drift in to each other, hypnotic but not boring, simultaneously melancholy, aggressive and euphoric. Synthesised flutes, sounding like they come from a child’s toy, strain to be heard over guitars that sound far more distorted than they actually are. Everything ‘smooshes’, for want of a real verb. It’s the audio equivalent of falling asleep while watching a poorly copied tape of a lava lamp exploding in super slow-motion. Really the cover art is key to what lies inside. A blurry, overexposed guitar, mid strum, is smothered beneath a sickly-sweet rose tint. It looks how the album sounds – hazy, strange and powerful. Loveless is often cited as the definitive example of ‘shoegaze’ music – characterised by plaintive vocals, swirling, digitally altered guitars, and lethargic tempos – but really it stands on its own. While fellow shoegazers such as Ride and Slowdive were not without their own triumphs, their work was more of its time, sharing the kind of indigo-tinged European-ness that only the ‘90s can provide. Loveless is timeless – it deserves the cliché. It’s too weird and forceful to belong to any decade in particular.

But words can only convey so much. No matter how elegant the prose, no descriptive passage can fully capture the experience of listening to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. It’s an inimitable record. It’s fantastic, amazing, awesome, terrific and most certainly wonderful. Whether you’re a tragic fan or you’ve never heard of it, the task is simple. Go listen to it.

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