One of the elements of music I find most interesting is the idea of building on the past, the way that bands take in certain influences and hallmark albums and try to build on them or improve them in some way. But a recurring theme in this series has been the idea that the very best albums simply can’t be replicated. Albums like In the Aeroplane over the Sea, Homogenic, and pretty much all the others are too much a product of the genius of their creators and the specific time and place that they were made. They’re also such perfect distillations of the genre or sound that they’re trying to accomplish that there’s no point in even trying.
Perhaps no album exemplifies that idea more than My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 masterpiece Loveless. By pretty much any measure, this is one of the most influential albums there is in indie music. In fact, it’s one of those albums that seems to be a building block of what “indie music” even is, given how vague and all-encompassing the term is. Bands have tried to replicate it in the 20 years since its first release and none have come even remotely close. The most successful have been ones that merely borrowed bits and pieces of Loveless instead of trying to capture its entire aesthetic.
Much of that is due to its creator, Kevin Shields. Shields had the idea for Loveless in his head and paired it with a relentless commitment to bring it to fruition. As a result, the recording sessions for Loveless have become somewhat legendary, as Shields spent two years cycling through various engineers, meticulously recording the sound of the album in various studios, and nearly bankrupting Creation Records (who promptly released My Bloody Valentine from their label following the release of the album).
Of course, all of the craziness by Shields is what makes Loveless what it is. Despite having few coherent lyrics, it’s a uniquely powerful album, one that is difficult to explain and simply has to be experienced. It finds beauty in the previously ugly realm of noise in music and for the most part was unlike anything that came before it. And its songs also show surprising pop craftsmanship but are also nearly impossible to pinpoint due to the abstract sounds and lyrics.
One thing I sort of miss about the current state of music is that feeling of throwing an album into a record or CD player and just letting it spin, without really knowing what you’re about to hear. That sense of nostalgia for an era that I didn’t even really experience that much comes up a lot when listening to Loveless, mostly because of the opening track “Only Shallow.” Has there been a better two seconds in music than the beginning of this song? It starts out with a drum beat that sounds fairly normal, but a second later the walls of guitar come in and it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before.
Loveless not only perfects its aesthetic (primarily known as “shoegazing”, another unnecessary musical genre term that I could live without), but also takes it in many different areas. There’s more traditional rock songs (“Only Shallow), but also lush, dreamy pieces featuring Bilinda Butcher’s vocals (“Loomer”) and more abstract, sonic dirges (“Sometimes”). There’s also “Soon”, which takes the style and puts a dance beat to it, which caused Brian Eno to call it the vaguest music ever to be a hit in the charts.
20 years later, My Bloody Valentine still hasn’t followed up on Loveless. Shields has only sparingly been involved in music publicly, collaborating with various bands but doing little in the way of his own music outside of a My Bloody Valentine reunion in 2007. He’s thrown out music that he doesn’t deem good enough for release, and sounds like he simply refuses to make an album that isn’t as good as this one. Given that, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for another My Bloody Valentine album, because Loveless simply can’t be improved upon.