What can you say about something that takes almost two decades to make, 46 minutes to listen to, and arrives at three hours’ notice?
As RSI took root in our joints and we clicked Refresh on the 403 Error page for the 3,257th time, we felt certain that Kevin Shields had undergone a last-minute change of heart and decided to hold fire on the new My Bloody Valentine album after all. Perhaps his notoriously critical ear had noticed a vocal that sounded too earthbound and corporeal, or a guitar that didn’t sound enough like light being bent around a pyramid. Maybe he realised that, if he just gave himself another two or three years, he could probably come up with a better title than ‘m b v’.
As it turned out, we had to wait just a teensy bit longer than expected. But now it’s finally here, what can you say about something that takes almost two decades to make, 46 minutes to listen to, and arrives at three hours’ notice? The answer: nothing with any great certainty. ‘m b v’ needs to be digested like chewing gum, left to swirl around in your system for months or years, before anyone will really be able to gauge how it measures up to ‘Isn’t Anything’ or ‘Loveless’.
The first listen brings conflicting emotions. You dearly want ‘She Found Now’ to reassure you that the wait hasn’t been in vain, but you’re also mindful that, when dealing with the first new My Bloody Valentine material since the fall of the USSR, you’ll talk yourself into believing pretty much anything. In the end, the song proves more ephemeral than ethereal: first it’s there, then it’s gone, and it’s with no small degree of disappointment that you realise it’s barely even registered. Thankfully, the sense of anticlimax is fleeting; once you stop listening to ‘m b v’ with an agenda, a rich, complex and rewarding record emerges.
That said, it does sound like something that’s taken a ridiculously long time to make: the whole experience is like listening to a time-lapse photograph of the inside of Kevin Shields’ head. The first three tracks – especially the polychromatic squall of ‘Only Tomorrow’, where Shields’ sonic juju, Bilinda Butcher’s gossamer vocals and Colm Ó Cíosóig’s murk-laden drums combine to goosebump-inducing effect – are unmistakably the work of the same band who made ‘Loveless’, but from there, 20 years of ideas, experiments and diversionary flights of fancy take over. ‘m b v’ is not really an album at all, but an oeuvre in fast-forward.
On the second half, in particular, anyone stopping to admire the sonic architecture will find autobahns, not cathedrals. ‘In Another Way’, with its silvery Krautrock synths and kitchen-sink instrumentation, is like something Shields might have cooked up during his stint with Primal Scream; on ‘Wonder 2’, he appears to have found a way to make a jet engine do his bidding. Most shockingly of all, ‘New You’ is pure, untampered-with indie-pop, a buoyant little chord sequence that pivots around Debbie Googe’s scuzzy bassline and a nebulous “Doo-doo-doo” coda. Ultimately, though, you just go with it: if ‘m b v’ appears to move without reason or rhyme – and on the surface, there seems little to connect the liminal, star-dappled electronica of ‘Is This And Yes’ with the brutal, locked-groove drum’n’bass (yes, drum’n’bass) of ‘Nothing Is’ – then at least it’s in keeping with My Bloody Valentine’s dreamlike aesthetic.
The question is, of course, whether ‘m b v’ was worth the wait. There’s no right or wrong answer to that – it all depends on what you expected from it in the first place. And as to whether or not it’s any good… well, let’s just say that if great albums are never finished, only released, we’re thankful Kevin Shields finally saw fit to let this one go.