Loveless is My Bloody Valentine’s magnum opus. It is a seminal work that many would say defined the sub-genre Shoegaze. It’s a work so ambitious that it supposedly bankrupted Creation Records. Not to mention, it’s also really weird.
Upon first listen, Loveless delivers more questions than answers. Questions like, “Why can I hardly hear a word of the vocals?” and “Is there a melody behind the noise?” and “What the hell am I listening to?” For some, those questions never get answered. That’s completely understandable; it’s undeniable that Loveless has a high barrier to entry. For myself, the moment Loveless captivated me was the second I stopped trying to make sense of it. It’s an album that operates almost entirely on feel – the effects of the album’s sonic endeavors.
Sure, most of the time you can’t really make out what vocalists Blinda Butcher and Kevin Shields are saying. But their voices merge and mingle with the music, creating an oozing and overwhelming hodgepodge of sounds. They are airy and almost mystical. And sure, Loveless can be defined as adhering to the “Wall of Sound” aesthetic. But the intricate sonic landscape guitarist and vocalist Kevin Shields — the album’s architect — produces is seemingly unprecedented. Look at the album cover — that’s exactly what this record sounds like.
Kevin Shields was not satisfied with traditional guitar sounds and melodies. He experimented with his equipment obsessively, trying desperately to develop the perfect sound for every song. Just listen to the album’s opener, “Only Shallow.” The song’s intro (and effectively, its chorus) features a guitar lead that I can only describe as resembling a wailing elephant. The chord progression is not intricate or even unique. Neither are Belinda’s vocal melodies. But Loveless is more than just the sum of its parts, as “Only Shallow” perfectly displays.
On the track “To Here Knows When,” Shields contorts his guitars to blast out continuously an ethereal medley of clattering electricity that sounds like an airplane lifting off. On top of this, he lays on a faint yet persistent synth melody. Soothing vocals can barely be heard over this barricade of sound, one that’s altogether sophisticated, mind-bending and very confusing. Ultimately, it’s a great experience.
“Sometimes” takes a simpler, yet just as effective, route. Over some modest acoustic strumming, you hear an overpowering wall of distorted tremolo guitar. Kevin Shields provides soft vocals without drums at all. The song is as straight-forward it can possibly be on this album, yet it still finds a way to sound like nothing else you’ve ever heard.
Kevin Shields’ painstaking, meltdown-inducing perfectionism certainly paid off — at least for the fans. In 1991, the year the album was released, grunge was breaking out as a new manifestation of mainstream alternative rock. But My Bloody Valentine marched to the beat of its own drum. You’d be hard-pressed to find an album in that era (as great and important as those grunge bands were) that reaches the levels of psychedelic ethereality that Loveless does.
Overall, Loveless is about aesthetic. The aesthetic it crafts is awe-inspiring. It’s no wonder it still stands as one of the greatest albums of the ’90s.
Nima Aminian is a junior majoring in economics. His column, Classics’ Corner, runs every other Thursday.