Here’s a Valentine’s Day gift worth savouring—the latest recording by My Bloody Valentine, m b v, only their third in a 20-year career, and one that might well be the most satisfying and subtly ground-breaking collection of songs they’ve ever released. That’s probably heresy to fans of Loveless, the 1991 album that took a full two years of work and is rumoured (probably apocryphally, if we’re to believe MBV mastermind Kevin Shields) to have almost bankrupted Creation Records.
m b v is not a departure from Loveless in quite the same way that Loveless leapt forward from the band’s 1988 debut album Isn’t Anything? But the relief is that m b v is everything we’ve come to expect of Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Debbie Googe and Bilinda Butcher collectively —the sonic extremities, the sighing melodies, the beautiful abyss of melancholy over which everything teeters—and more. At times, for instance on ‘Only Tomorrow’, the distortion is so extreme it almost cracks apart, and rarely have Shields and his bandmates sounded so abandoned as they do on ‘In Another Way’ and the closing ‘Wonder 2’. But then there is the unexpected electronica hymn of ‘Is This And Yes’, and ‘If I Am’ and ‘New You’ are, simply, pop songs. Altogether, My Bloody Valentine has never sound as wild, as calm; as fiery, as pretty; as they do on m b v.
From the aural acid shower of the opening chord of first track ‘She Found Now’, to the frenetic kaleidoscopic conclusion of ‘Wonder 2’, the band sigh and swoon through aural firestorms, twinkling like stars at one moment, hurtling into a black hole the next. After three listens, an obvious standout is ‘Who Sees You’, a great continental drift of a performance, with molten guitar and chord changes coming with the finesse of a card dealer, topped with one of the most gloriously sloppy guitar solos you could hear outside of a Neil Young and Crazy Horse bootleg. ‘Is This And Yes’ is another high point, with its simple, solemn Mo Tucker-like percussion underpinning a beautiful mesh of keyboards and harmony vocals. And ‘If I Am’ seems to be as poppy as My Bloody Valentine can get, that impression will last only for as long as it takes to listen to the next track, ‘New You’, with its skipping beat, fuzz bass, and doo-doo-doo-de-doo-doo scatting vocals.
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, ‘In Another Way’ opens with an electronica equivalent of Tarzan’s jungle war cry and into a frenetic collision of dance percussion, a spiralling melodic ascent with a tidal harmonic undertow, before crashing into an instrumental interlude in which everything seems to drop away save for a fanfare for guitar solo and keyboards. It’s like a less programmed version of the Loveless highlight ‘Soon’. Difficult listening, but ultimately rewarding. ‘Nothing Is’ is a three-minute pummelling instrumental, a savagely intense but rhythmically intricate track that inexorably tightens its grip throughout its 3.34 duration, before the euphoric release of album closer ‘Wonder 2’. With its propulsive, swooshing rhythm track and what sounds like a cut up and phased sample of a plane engine underpinning a dizzying vista of shifting chords and jet propelled rhthym guitar, keyboards, and a majestic vocal melody, listening to ‘Wonder 2’ is like being strapped into the cockpit of some supersonic aircraft that’s been pre-set to take you on the most exhilharating, white-knuckled ride of your life.
It’s everything we expect of My Bloody Valentine, and yet also entirely unexpected. And as such, it’s the perfect conclusion to a remarkable album. A mere 22 years on from the epochal Loveless, it’s as if My Bloody Valentine have never been away. And if that’s not worth waiting for, I don’t know what is. A happy Valentine’s day indeed.