Loveless (My Bloody Valentine album)
|Studio album by|
|Released||4 November 1991|
|Recorded||February 1989–September 1991|
|My Bloody Valentine chronology|
|Singles from Loveless|
Loveless is the second studio album by English-Irish rock band My Bloody Valentine. It was released on 4 November 1991 in the United Kingdom by Creation Records and in the United States by Sire Records. The album was recorded between February 1989 and September 1991, with vocalist and guitarist Kevin Shields leading sessions and experimenting with guitar tremolo techniques, tuning systems, samplers, and meticulous production methods. The band cycled through nineteen different studios and several engineers during the album's prolonged recording, with its production cost rumoured to have reached £250,000.
Preceded by the EPs Glider (1990) and Tremolo (1991), Loveless peaked at number 24 on the UK Albums Chart, and was widely praised by critics for its sonic innovations and Shields' "virtual reinvention of the guitar". However, after its release, Creation owner Alan McGee dropped the band from the label, as he found Shields too difficult to work with, a factor alleged to have contributed to the label's eventual bankruptcy. My Bloody Valentine struggled to record a follow-up to the album and broke up in 1997, making Loveless their last full-length release until MBV in 2013.
Since its release, Loveless has been widely cited by critics as one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, a landmark work of the shoegazing subgenre, and as a significant influence on various subsequent artists. In 2012, it was reissued as a two-CD set, including remastered tracks and a previously unreleased half-inch analogue tape version, and peaked on several international charts. In 2013, Loveless was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry.
My Bloody Valentine were scheduled to record at Blackwing Studios in Southwark, London for February 1989, and intended to conceptualise a new, more studio-based sound for their second album. Guitarist Kevin Shields said their label Creation Records believed the album could be recorded in five days. According to Shields, "when it became clear that wasn't going to happen, they freaked". After several unproductive months, the band relocated in September to the basement studio The Elephant and Wapping, where they spent eight unproductive weeks. In-house engineer Nick Robbins said Shields made it clear from the outset that Robbins "was just there to press the buttons". Robbins was quickly replaced by Harold Burgon, but according to Shields, Burgon's main contribution was to show the group how to use the in-studio computer.
Burgon and Shields spent three weeks at the Woodcray studio in Berkshire working on the Glider EP, which Shields and Creation owner Alan McGee agreed would be released in advance of the album. Alan Moulder was hired to mix the Glider song "Soon" at Trident 2 studio in Victoria; the song later appeared as the closing track on Loveless. Shields said of Moulder, "As soon as we worked with him we realized we'd love to some more!" When the group returned to work on the album, Moulder was the sole engineer Shields trusted to perform tasks such as micing the amplifiers; all the other credited engineers were told "We're so on top of this you don't even have to come to work." Shields said that "these engineers—with the exception of Alan Moulder and later Anjali Dutt—were all just the people who came with the studio...everything we wanted to do was wrong, according to them." The band gave credit on the album sleeve to all present during the recordings, "even if all they did was fix tea", according to Shields.
During the spring of 1990, Anjali Dutt was hired to replace Moulder, who had left to work with the bands Shakespears Sister and Ride. Dutt assisted in the recording of vocals and several guitar tracks. During this period, the band recorded in various studios, often spending a single day at a studio before deciding it was unsuitable. In May 1990, My Bloody Valentine settled on Protocol in Holloway as their primary location, and work began in earnest on the album, as well as a second EP titled Tremolo. Like Glider, Tremolo contained a song—"To Here Knows When"—that later appeared on Loveless. The band stopped recording during the summer of 1990 to tour in support of the release of Glider. When Moulder returned to the project in August, he was surprised by how little work had been completed. By that point, Creation was concerned by how much the album was costing. Moulder left again in March 1991 to work for the Jesus and Mary Chain. In an interview with Select, Shields explained the stop-start nature of his recording, using "When You Sleep" as an example:
We recorded the drums in September '89. The guitar was done in December. The bass was done in April. 1990 we're in, now. Then nothing happens for a year really." So it doesn't have vocals at this stage? "No." Does it have words? "No." Does it even have a title? "No. It has a song number. 'Song 12' it was called. And… I'm trying to remember… the melody line was done in '91. The vocals were '91. There were huge gaps though. Months and months of not touching songs. Years. I used to forget what tunings I'd used.
The vocals were taped in Britannia Row and Protocol studios between May and June 1991, the first time vocalist Bilinda Butcher was involved in the recording. Shields and Butcher hung curtains on the window between the studio control room and the vocal booth, and only communicated with the engineers when they would acknowledge a good take by opening the curtain and waving. According to engineer Guy Fixsen, "We weren't allowed to listen while either of them were doing a vocal. You'd have to watch the meters on the tape machine to see if anyone was singing. If it stopped, you knew you had to stop the tape and take it back to the top." On most days, the couple arrived without having written the lyrics for the song they were to record. Dutt recalled: "Kevin would sing a track, and then Bilinda would get the tape and write down words she thought he might have sung".
In July 1991, Creation agreed to relocate the production to Eastcote studio, following unexplained complaints from Shields. However, the cash-poor Creation Records was unable to pay the bill for their time at Britannia Row, and the studio refused to return the band's equipment. Dutt recalled, "I don't know what excuse Kevin gave them for leaving. He had to raise the money himself to get the gear out." Shields' unpredictable behaviour, the constant delays, and studio changes were having a material effect on Creation's finances and the health of their staff. Dutt later said he had been desperate to leave the project, while Creation's second-in-command Dick Green had a nervous breakdown. Green recalled, "It was two years into the album, and I phoned Shields up in tears. I was going 'You have to deliver me this record'."
Shields and Butcher became afflicted with tinnitus, and had to delay recording for further weeks while they recovered. Concerned friends and band members suggested this was a result of the unusually loud volumes the group played at their shows, which Shields dismissed as "Ill-informed hysteria." Although Alan McGee was still positive about his investment, the 29-year-old Green, who by this time was opening the label's morning post "shaking with fear," became a concern to his co-workers. Publicist Laurence Verfaillie, aware of the label's inability to cover further studio bills, recalled Green's hair turning grey overnight, which she attributed to the album.
With the vocal tracks completed, a final mix of the album was undertaken with engineers Dick Meaney (the Jesus and Mary Chain) and Darren Allison (Spiritualized) at the Church in Crouch End, the nineteenth studio in which Loveless had been worked on. The album was edited on an aged machine that had been used to cut together dialog for movies in the 1970s; its computer threw the entire album out of phase. Shields was able to put it back together from memory, but took thirteen days to master the album rather than the usual one, to Creation's dismay.
As the previously prolific band were unusually quiet, the British music press began to speculate. Melody Maker calculated that the total recording cost had come close to £250,000; however, McGee, Green, and Shields dispute this. Shields argued that the estimated cost and Creation's near-bankruptcy were a myth exaggerated by McGee. According to Shields, "the amount we spent nobody knows because we never counted. But we worked it out ourselves just by working out how much the studios cost and how much all the engineers cost. 160 thousand pounds was the most we could come to as the actual money that was spent." In Green's opinion, the estimate made by Melody Maker was understated by £20,000, and that "once you'd even got it recorded and mixed, the very act of compiling, EQ-ing, etcetera took weeks on its own." In December 1991, Shields said that most of the money claimed to have been spent on the album was simply "money to live on" over three years, with the album itself only costing "a few thousand". He also claimed that the album represented only four months' work over two years. He said that most of the money spent came from the band's own funds, while "Creation probably spent fifteen to twenty thousand pounds of their own money on it, and that's it. They never showed us any accounts, and then they got bought out by Sony."
While Butcher contributed about a third of its lyrics, most of the music on Loveless was written and performed by Shields; according to Shields, he is the only musician on the album apart from "Touched". Shields assumed Butcher's guitarist duties during the recording process; Butcher said she had not minded because she felt she "was never a great guitarist". Bassist Debbie Googe did not perform on the album, though she received a credit. Googe said, "At the beginning I used to go down [to the studio] most days but after a while I began to feel pretty superfluous so I went down less." Butcher explained, "for Kevin to actually translate to Debbie what he had in his head and play it right would have been an agonizing process." Moulder said "It wasn't collaborative at all ... Kevin had a clear view of what he wanted, but he never explained it."
Loveless was largely recorded in mono sound, as Shields felt it important that the album's sound consisted of "the guitar smack bang in the middle and no chorus, no modulation effect". Shields wavers his guitar's tremolo bar as he strums, which contributes to the band's distinctive sound. This technique—nicknamed "glide guitar"—bends the guitar strings slightly in and out of tune. Shields said, "People were thinking it's hundreds of guitars, when it's actually got less guitar tracks than most people's demo tapes have." Unlike other bands of the shoegazing movement of the early 1990s, My Bloody Valentine did not use chorus or flanger pedals; Shields said, "No other band played that guitar like me [...] We did everything solely with the tremolo arm."
Shields aimed to use "very simple minimal effects" which often were the result of involved studio work. He stated, "The songs are really simply structured. A lot of them are purposely like that. That way you can get away with a lot more when you mess around with the contents." In a 1992 Guitar World interview, Shields described how he achieved a sound akin to a wah-wah pedal on "I Only Said" by playing his guitar through an amplifier with a graphic equaliser preamp. After recording the track, he bounced it to another track through a parametric equaliser while he adjusted the EQ levels manually. Asked if he could have achieved the effect more easily using a wah-wah pedal, Shields said, "In attitude toward sound, yes. But not in approach."
All but two of the drum tracks were built from samples of tracks performed by drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. Because Ó Cíosóig was suffering from physical ailments during the recording, he recorded samples of various drum patterns he was able to perform. According to Shields, "[i]t's exactly what Colm would have done, it just took longer to do." Ó Cíosóig recovered enough to play live on two songs: "Touched", which was composed and performed entirely by him, and "Only Shallow". Shields believes that listeners are unable to tell the difference between Ó Cíosóig's live drumming and the drum loops aside from the tracks intended to have an obviously "sampled" sound, such as the dance-oriented "Soon". The album makes extensive use of samples; according to Shields, "Most of the samples are feedback. We learnt from guitar feedback, with lots of distortion, that you can make any instrument, any one that you can imagine."
The vocals, handled jointly by Shields and Butcher, are kept relatively low in the mix, and are for the most part highly pitched. On occasion Shields sang the higher register and Butcher the lower. According to Shields, because the band had spent so long working on the album's vocals, he "couldn't tolerate really clear vocals, where you just hear one voice", thus "it had to be more like a sound." Butcher said of her "dreamy, sensual" style vocals: "Often when we do vocals, it's 7:30 in the morning; I've usually just fallen asleep and have to be woken up to sing." To aid this effect, Shields and Ó Cíosóig sampled Butcher's voice and reused it as instrumentation. The layered vocals on "When You Sleep" were born out of frustration with trying to get the right take. Shields commented that "The vocals sound like that because it became boring and too destructive trying to get the right vocal. So I decided to put all the vocals in. (It had been sung 12 or 13 times)." He explained:
On "When You Sleep" it sounds like me and Bilinda singing together, but it's just me – me slowed down and me speeded up at the same time. Some songs we sang over and over until we got bored – usually between 12 and 18 times. I started sorting through the tapes and it did my head in, so I just played them all together and it was really good – like one, vaguely distinct voice.
The lyrics are deliberately obscure; Shields joked that he considered rating various attempts to decipher the words on the band's website according to accuracy. He claims that he and Butcher "spent way more time on the lyrics than ever on the music". The words were often written in late-night eight- to ten-hour-long sessions before the pair were due to record the vocals. They worked diligently to ensure the lyrics were not lackluster, but made few changes; Shields said, "There's nothing worse than bad lyrics." Nonetheless, pressed by Select's David Cavanagh to reveal just the first line of "Loomer", Butcher refused, and Shields claimed to have "absolutely no idea" what she was singing.
After the album's release, My Bloody Valentine band toured Europe, an event music critic David Cavanagh described as a "unique chapter in live music." To recreate the higher tones from Loveless, Shields employed American flautist Anna Quimby. According to a friend of the band, "She had a little skirt on, black tights... she was a little indie girl. But when she blew into the flute, it was like fucking Woodstock."
The tour became infamous for its volume. NME editor Danny Kelly attended a show he described as "more like torture than entertainment ... I had a half pint of lager; they hit their first note and it was so loud that it sent the glass hurtling". During the following US tour, Shields and Butcher tested their audiences' ability to sustain noise played at high volumes. According to critic Mark Kemp; "After about thirty seconds the adrenaline set in, people are screaming and shaking their fists. After a minute you wonder what's going on. After another minute it's total confusion. The noise starts hurting. The noise continues. After three minutes you begin to take deep breaths. After four minutes, a calm takes over." The tour saw My Bloody Valentine accused of criminal negligence by the music press, who took exception to the long period of extreme noise played during "You Made Me Realise", referring to it as "the holocaust". In December 2000, Mojo rated the tour the second loudest in history.
Despite expectations for the band to break through in the wake of the critical success of Loveless, they fell apart soon after and only recorded sporadically in the following two decades. Unable to deliver a third album, Shields isolated himself and "went crazy", drawing comparisons in the music press to the behavior of musicians such as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd. The other band members went their own ways; Butcher contributed vocals to Collapsed Lung's 1996 single "Board Game", and two tracks ("Ballad Night" and "Casino Kisschase") from the band's 1996 album Cooler. Googe was sighted working as a cab driver in London and formed the supergroup Snowpony in 1996. Ó Cíosóig joined Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, while Shields collaborated with Yo La Tengo, Primal Scream and Dinosaur Jr.
Shields recorded new music in his home studio, but abandoned it. According to sources, some was possibly influenced by jungle music. Shields said, "We did an album's worth of half-finished stuff, and it did just get dumped, but it was worth dumping. It was dead. It hadn't got that spirit, that life in it." He said later, "I just stopped making records myself, and I suppose that must just seem weird to people. 'Why'd you do that?' The answer is, it wasn't as good [as Loveless]. And I always promised myself I'd never do that, put out a worse record." He told Magnet of his certainty in recording another My Bloody Valentine album, and attributed the sparse output to a lack of inspiration. A third My Bloody Valentine album, m b v, was finally released in 2013, 22 years after Loveless.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||A−|
Although Shields feared a critical panning, reviews of Loveless were almost unanimously favourable. "An album without parallel", wrote Andrew Perry in Select. "Its creative inspiration defies belief. Though 'To Here Knows When' is pretty well the weirdest track of the eleven, that glorious distortion gives a fair signal of what to expect – the unexpected. Everything you hear confounds your idea of how a pop song should be played, arranged and produced." Martin Aston in Q wrote that "The instrumental 'Touched' is especially startling, like a drunken fight between a syrupy Disney soundtrack and an Eastern mantra. All in all, Loveless amounts to a virtual reinvention of the guitar."
NME reviewer Dele Fadele saw My Bloody Valentine as the "blueprint" for the shoegaze genre, and wrote: "with Loveless you could've expected the Irish / English partnership to succumb to self-parody or mimic The Scene That's Delighted To Eat Quiche [...] But no, Loveless fires a silver-coated bullet into the future, daring all-comers to try and recreate its mixture of moods, feelings, emotion, styles and, yes, innovations." While Fadele expressed some disappointment that the group seemed to disassociate themselves from dance music and reggae basslines, he concluded: "Loveless ups the ante, and, however decadent one might find the idea of elevating other human beings to deities, My Bloody Valentine, failings and all, deserve more than your respect." Melody Maker writer Simon Reynolds praised the album, and wrote that Loveless "[reaffirms] how unique, how peerless MBV are." He wrote, "Along with Mercury Rev's Yerself is Steam, 'Loveless' is the outermost, innermost, uttermost rock record of 1991." Reynolds noted that his only criticism was that "while My Bloody Valentine have amplified and refined what they already were, they've failed to mutate or leap into any kind of beyond." In a review that also covered Creation labelmates Slowdive and Velvet Crush, Rolling Stone reviewer Ira Robbins wrote, "Despite the record's intense ability to disorient—this is real do-not-adjust-your-set stuff—the effect is strangely uplifting. Loveless oozes a sonic balm that first embraces and then softly pulverizes the frantic stress of life." Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot wrote that the band had "written a new vocabulary for the guitar, and perhaps given it another 10 years of life as rock`s central instrument." Spin gave Loveless a mixed review; writer Jim Greer felt it was "standard-ish and dull .. The warped music is a cool idea and I recommend the album—but not on the basis of the singing or the songs."
While Creation were pleased with the final album, and the initial music press reviews were positive, the label soon realised that although, in the words of plugger James Kyllo, "it was such a beautiful record, and it was wonderful to have it... it just didn't sound like a record that was going to recoup all the money that had been spent on it." Alan McGee liked the record, but said, "It was quite clear that we couldn't bear the idea of going through that again, because there was just nothing to say that [Shields] wouldn't do exactly the same again. That's enough. Lets step back". Despite a severe shortage of money, Creation funded a short tour of the north of England late in 1991. At the time the band were making the marketing of Loveless difficult—there would be no singles, and the band's name was forbidden to appear on the record sleeve. McGee was by now exhausted and frustrated. He recalled, "I thought: I went to the wall for you. If this record bombs, I've stolen my father's money. And they were so...not understanding of anybody else's position." McGee dropped My Bloody Valentine from Creation soon after the album's release because he could not bear working with Shields again; "It was either him or me", he told The Guardian in 2004. Loveless peaked at number 24 on the UK Albums Chart, and failed to chart in the United States, where it was distributed by Sire Records. In 2003, Rolling Stone estimated that Loveless had sold 225,000 copies.
Loveless has been a consistent critical favorite. It came in as number fourteen in the 1991 Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll. In 1999, Pitchfork named Loveless the best album of the 1990s. However, in their 2003 revision of the list, it was moved to number two, swapping places with Radiohead's OK Computer. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it number 219 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2004, The Observer ranked it at number 20 in its "100 Greatest British Albums" list, declaring it "the last great extreme rock album". In Spin's entry for Loveless on its list of "100 Greatest Albums 1985–2005" (where it was ranked at number 22), Chuck Klosterman wrote, "Whenever anyone uses the phrase swirling guitars, this record is why. A testament to studio production and single-minded perfectionism, Loveless has a layered, inverted thickness that makes harsh sounds soft and fragile moments vast." In 2008, Loveless topped The Irish Times' "Top 40 Irish Albums of All Time" critics' list, in 2013, it placed third in the Irish Independent's "Top 30 Irish Albums of All Time" list. and in 2014, it placed ninth on the Alternative Nation site's "Top 10 Underrated 90's Alternative Rock Albums" list. In 2013, NME ranked the album at number 18 on their "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Loveless has been influential on a large number of genres and artists. Clash called the album "the magnum opus of the shoegazing genre ... it raised the bar so high that it subsequently collapsed under its own weight", leading to the dissipation of the style. Critic Jim DeRogatis wrote that "the forward-looking sounds of this unique disc have positioned the band as one of the most influential and inspiring bands since the Velvet Underground." Authors Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell wrote that the album "might be so progressive that nothing else will ever match it." Metro Times called the album "the high-water mark of shoegaze", writing that its "dense production and hypnotic atmosphere drugged listeners with its sound's lovely oxymoron: at once hard and soft, up-tempo and languid, lascivious and frigid."
Musician Brian Eno said that "Soon" "set a new standard for pop. It's the vaguest music ever to have been a hit." Robert Smith of the Cure discovered Loveless after a period of almost exclusively listening to disco and/or Irish bands such as the Dubliners as a means of avoiding his contemporaries, and said, "[My Bloody Valentine] was the first band I heard who quite clearly pissed all over us, and their album Loveless is certainly one of my all-time three favourite records. It's the sound of someone [Shields] who is so driven that they're demented. And the fact that they spent so much time and money on it is so excellent." Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins told Spin: "It's rare in guitar-based music that somebody does something new [...] At the time, everybody was like, 'How the fuck are they doing this?' And, of course, it's way simpler than anybody would imagine."[nb 1]
In 2014 for the documentary Beautiful Noise, McGee said about the album, "people were talking about it as if it was Beethoven's 7th or 8th symphony. No. It's some guy that can't finish a record that took three years... Loveless is fucking overrated as fuck."
All tracks written by Kevin Shields, except where noted.
|1.||"Only Shallow"||Bilinda Butcher||Shields||4:17|
|3.||"Touched"||Colm Ó Cíosóig||0:56|
|4.||"To Here Knows When"||Shields||5:31|
|5.||"When You Sleep"||4:11|
|6.||"I Only Said"||5:34|
|7.||"Come in Alone"||3:58|
|9.||"Blown a Wish"||Butcher||Shields||3:36|
|10.||"What You Want"||5:33|
All personnel credits adapted from Loveless's liner notes.
My Bloody Valentine
Production and mixing
Artwork and release
Engineering and assistance
|European Albums (Music & Media)||47|
|UK Albums (OCC)||24|
|Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)||154|
|Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)||188|
|Irish Albums (IRMA)||29|
|Japanese Albums (Oricon)||18|
|South Korean Albums (Gaon)||43|
|South Korean International Albums (Gaon)||7|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||60,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
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- Analysis of the importance of Loveless in music history
- Loveless at Discogs (list of releases)