My Blood Valentine: Only Shallow
reation Record’s founder Alan McGee notes that he didn’t like the early MBV, thinking they were a “wimpy anorak band,” but a January 1987 live show surprised him: “I was shocked to find it was like an English Hüsker Dü.” With 1988’s ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss,’ the band entered a new phase masking the still sweet harmonies behind a newfound wall of feedback, a concept further developed by the Glider and Tremolo EPs. But our story really begins and ends with their 1991 masterpiece Loveless and the legendary tour that followed.
My Bloody Valentine’s aural adventure Loveless cannot be fully comprehended without a nod towards other noisy arts/construction movements of the 1970s and ‘80s (like NY’s no-wave scene and SF’s Survival Research Labs built objects, industrial arts wargames spectacles). Furthermore, it is an extension of the band’s own earlier reworking/feedbacking of classic Spector production effects and Wilsonesque lyrics in such tracks as Isn’t Anything’s ‘Feed Me with Your Kiss,’ where a hint of a melody wafts behind a veritable wall of guitar effects. Shields himself specifically notes the liberating influence of “techno and rap” which allow for new versions of sound structures and production mixes. MBV works in dual threads of noise and minimalism. Singer/Guitarist Kevin Shields states, “A lot of what we are is about sound. We use volume as an instrument a lot live,” and he further elaborates a desire to decenter the vocalist in the mix and focus on the instruments producing the trademark “muffled sound … like fluff on a needle.” Iconically, the album is represented by a barely discernible and definitely disembodied shot of a guitar’s fretboard seemingly about to dissolve from the wild vibrations of the strings, which visually represent this muffled sound.
This image becomes the ruling metaphor of discussions of an album which is “greater than the sum of its parts” or that “must be listened to whole as songs build on each other.” Fair enough, but the disc does have one standout, stand alone track and it’s not ‘Soon” even if Brian Eno declared that the album closer “sets a new standard for pop.” The standout track is “Only Shallow,” which urgently starts the album with an immediately identifiable quick instrumental four count by Colm O’Coisig on the snare. This leads immediately to a wash of guitar effects and a hard strummed ringing bass line. Belinda Butcher’s indeterminate vocals first appear 24 seconds in. And still that insistent drumming,; on the video O’Coisig could be Dave Grohl’s lost Irish half brother. 3:41 –4:17 are really a sequencer bridge between tracks and I would disregard them in conceiving of “Only Shallow” as a single. The singularity of this track is further evidenced by its video treatment on The Creation Story. It’s the only video which does not look like an outtake from cover shots for Isn’t Anything and also the only one featuring “real” performance footage. To get a visual sense of what makes this song musically stunning, watch how Belinda Butcher’s singing face montages to wildly cavorting guitar and bass frets and is interspersed with the subdued playing of the band (O’Coisig excepted). Still Shields’ subtle manipulation of the whammy bar causes many of the supposed “effects.” This minimalist look was really deceptive, as live on the Loveless tour MBV really did use ‘volume as an instrument,” nowhere moreso than in the epochal closer “You Made Me Realize” (3:27 of pop perfection surrounding a varying length of extreme feedback that surely must mimic the inside of an Apollo Rocket engine at full strength). It’s that sound we first here emanating after the clarion call of those four drumbeats. DA DA DA DA whammy!
By: G. E. Light
Published on: 2003-08-21