A special 99-page magazine - The 60 Most Important Albums Of NME's Lifetime - is on sale now. You can order it here. In this excerpt, Alan Woodhouse sets the scene for My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless'.
It’s rightly taken its place as one of the world’s most renowned and fawned over albums – and it’s just as well given its extremely troubled gestation. It all seems so quaint now, especially when you consider the likes of ‘Second Coming’ and ‘Chinese Democracy’ make it all seem like small fry. But back in 1991, three years before Oasis started making them ridiculous amounts of money, Creation Records were living hand-to-mouth, desperate to solve their cashflow problems by getting records from their main artists out onto the shelves.
Following the release of their acclaimed full-length debut album, ‘Isn’t Anything’ in 1988, MBV began prevaricating over the release of its eagerly awaited follow-up, causing Creation bosses Alan McGee and Dick Green to gain more than a few grey hairs as they had no product to put out, and were shelling out more and more as MBV mainman Kevin Shields’ quest for sonic perfection saw the band move from studio to studio (19 in total). The record was reported to have cost £270,000 to make, an astronomical sum for an independent label in those days (this figure has long been disputed by Shields). McGee has subsequently admitted that Creation’s financial problems were also down to his then Herculean drug use.
The situation still causes bad feeling today, as both parties point the finger at each other over what went on. But the bottom line is that ‘Loveless’ was worth all the hand-wringing and hassle. It was a record that forged a new path for indie rock music, one which many have openly cited as a huge influence but no-one has been able to better – even the group themselves, who haven’t released a follow-up since. The difficult situation for Shields is the longer he prevaricates, the more difficult it is for him to put out new music that’s always going to be compared to ‘Loveless’, because it was a game-changer. And although MBV are a band, it was very much down to him, as apart from drummer Colm O’Ciosoig’s brief, stormy instrumental ‘Touched’, all of the songs were written by Shields.
Also, all the guitar parts were recorded alone by Shields, frantically trying to recreate the sounds in his head. Going by the first single he gave Creation, which ended up being the record’s closing track, what he was hearing was very weird and wonderful. ‘Soon’, the lead track on the ‘Gilder EP’, was as McGee put it to NME, “like Happy Mondays doing Sonic Youth”. A blizzard of guitars and indecipherable vocals, its clubby-sounding rhythm section seemed inspired by recent musical developments, but still managed to sound like no-one else. Brian Eno, possibly noticing a kindred spirit in Shields, praised the track, calling it “the vaguest piece of music to ever make the Top 40”. But it was over a year later when the next music filtered out – and this time it was even more of a surprise.
‘To Here Knows When’, the lead track on the ‘Tremelo’ EP, was a blurry, hazy psychedelic storm cloud of a song, which felt so pure even though so much appeared to be going on. It was clear that Shields and his trusty cohorts were doing something that was completely unique, and that they were moving many, many levels away from the legions of imitators they had inspired over the previous few years. It was almost as if Shields was saying, “Is that all you’ve got? Then listen to THIS!” The anticipation for the album grew and grew, but still everyone had to wait as they continued to tinker in the studio.
When it did eventually appear, it got great reviews, but there was a general feeling of stunned amazement as punters and critics tried to get their heads around the likes of the heavy, lurching riff of opener ‘Only Shallow’, the pretty shimmering ballad ‘Sometimes’ or the startling ‘When You Sleep’, on which Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s vocals intertwine in a tale of sexual confusion set to one of the sweetest melodies on the record. It was the shock of hearing something brand new being done with guitars, but it was only after the shockwaves had subsided that the assessments were fairly unanimous in their praise.
Despite all the grief, and against all the odds, MBV had pulled off something truly remarkable. The fears that they had over-egged the pudding proved unfounded, and the wait was worth it. And now, 21 years on, Shields is saying a follow-up is imminent. Understandably, it’s taken that long to put together something which could match this towering achievement.
The 60 Most Important Albums Of NME's Lifetime is on sale now. Order your copy here.