The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Loved Less 

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Just some words on My Bloody Valentine, more specifically Kevin Shields, since he's flavour of the week at the moment. I'm probably opening myself up to a torrent of abuse here, but I can't keep it any longer.

Loveless is not that great.

I like it, a lot, believe me, but I don't understand why it's consistently reckoned to be one of the greatest albums ever made. I mean, most of the time the top end of 'greatest albums' lists baffles me anyway - Sergeant Pepper, Pet Sounds, etc., but at least I figure that I was born thirty years too late, I'm not in a position to imagine how radical they must have sounded at the time, etc. etc. But in 1991 I was a floppy-haired indie kid who was just getting into Ride, Spiritualized and Stereolab. By all reckoning Loveless should be perfect for me, but it's not.

There's a tremendous mythology built up around this album: we've all read (still reading in last week's Guardian) the stories of how he bankrupted Alan McGee in his striving for sonic perfection, etc. The problem I have is that while he's found a pretty good sound for McGee's £250,000, that's all Shields has come up with. There's that brickwall guitar sound, with occasional pitch bends, and then some flutey keyboard stuff over the top. It sounds great, it must have taken a bit of work to perfect it. It's absolutely distinctive, instantly recognisable. Marvellous. But then it's used almost without definition across the entire album. Someone coming to Loveless after reading the stories is going to expect a kaleidoscopic aural feast, and they're going to be disappointed. I was myself, since I bought the album after reading various pieces in NME/Melody Maker with Shields wittering on about different weights of guitar strings. Someone who's acquired this attention to detail, I thought, must have a lot of pretty amazing ways of demonstrating it. And this is where the record falls down, for me. Each track is very good, and the whole 50 minutes is pretty exhilarating, but until 'Soon' offers any real shift in emphasis, you also feel slightly shortchanged. It's not quite the 'muddy splodge' Luka would have it as, but it's just that bit too monolithic, too samey. A harsher man than I might draw parallels with Oasis, circa 'Some Might Say' for the all-sounds, all-of-the-time production.

I repeat: it is an album I really, really like, and one I often turn to when I'm not quite sure what I want to listen to. But I'm suspicious of its canonisation. To me it just looks too much like too many people being sucked into an image of the tortured genius artist (a notion I hate anyway) that doesn't hold up to scrutiny alongside the musical work itself. I don't wish Shields any ill - his music has brought me a great deal of pleasure - but I'm just putting out a little plea for some perspective, that's all. For all the money, all the legend, all the pain, I'd want something that pushed itself just a little harder, took some risks in the new sonic world it had created, and avoided returning to the comfort of that. A record that opened more than just one, small, door.

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