This Dublin-born band didn’t take long to establish itself as the cornerstone of a loose, largely media-built coalition of bands playing aggressive (and aggressively opaque) pop music that stood in direct opposition to both rockism and the twee bedsit romanticism of the pallid anti- rockists. But while most of the embryonic shoegazers maintained a tacit connection with pop tradition, My Bloody Valentine gradually transformed its lexicon via radical addition-by-subtraction: by the dawn of the ’90s, the band had reinvented itself as a herald of sound as sacrament.
The early records capture a group in step with the times, but perhaps a bit too eager to get into the studio. On This Is Your Bloody Valentine (recorded, incidentally, in Berlin) the band betrays some awkward Batcave-ish roots as it “progresses” from campy Doors mimicry to spelunking in Nick’s Cave. The only thing missing is originality. Geek is pretty much a carbon copy, largely because of David Conway’s basso profundo (occasionally ridiculoso) croon, but The New Record uses a broader palette: the breathy “Lovelee Sweet Darlene” is outright childlike in its innocence.
By this time, My Bloody Valentine had begun construction on a wall of sound/noise (depending on your aesthetic values) that’s often likened to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s. But where the Reids sequester themselves in a forbidding cage of hardened steel, My Bloody Valentine beckons from behind a glistening, almost transparent curtain of the thinnest gold leaf. This approach became all the more tantalizing when Conway left after Sunny Sundae Smile (notable for the silliest song ever about blow-up-doll love) and took most of the storm clouds with him. Strawberry Wine replaces the gloom with lush West Coast psychedelia that owes a fair amount to Arthur Lee.
Ecstasy (later paired with Strawberry Wine as Ecstasy and Wine) ups the dissonance factor a bit, and greatly de-emphasizes the shared vocals of new member Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields (both also play guitar), presaging a Creation trademark-in-the-making tendency to elevate sound over song. There are certainly several of the latter on the band’s first bona fide longplayer, Isn’t Anything. Most, it seems, revolve around, er, non- mainstream sexuality (check out “Cigarette in Your Bed” — only on the British edition — for some strange kicks); all ride waves of languid “glide guitar” (the band’s phrase) to almost narcotic effect. Trivia buffs should note My Bloody Valentine’s appropriation of Public Enemy’s “Security of the First World” riff — a full two years before Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”
Feed Me With Your Kiss (a single from Isn’t Anything) and You Made Me Realise (not its real name: the five-track 12-inch that features that tune actually has no title) favor more conventional structures — to the point of curiosity on “You Made Me Realise,” which strips down to skeletal riff-rock basics for an X-like hootenanny. Glider, on the other hand, is a wholehearted embrace of stasis — not at all a bad thing, given the band’s extraordinary ability to arrive without traveling. The best track, “Soon,” all but dispenses with frills like choruses and chord progressions, opting instead for seven minutes of mesmerizing swells and contractions. That futurist-styled transmutation of motion set the stage for the further surrender of pop convention that marks the aptly titled Tremolo, four new songs whose buoyancy is largely owed to the constant sweeping motions with which Shields wields his whammy bar. In his hands, the oft-abused axe appendage becomes a magic wand.
The quartet spent nearly three years (and nearly a half- million dollars) recording Loveless, a glorious and singular album that stands as one of the decade’s most important audio statements. Loveless is pop shredded through the looking glass and painstakingly reassembled on the other side — with each piece set just far enough off-kilter that your senses never regain their balance. Part Pet Sounds and part Metal Machine Music, the album buffs elements of pure noise until the whole is enticing, shimmering — and, on gauzy tracks like “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep” — nearly perfect bubblegum. The deliberate lurching and pitching of songs like the epic “To Here Knows When” seem designed to approximate inner-ear dysfunction, with the clincher being “Touched,” a quease-courting 90-second sample loop that will sorely test your faith in technology.
It was on several tours in support of Loveless that My Bloody Valentine really served notice of its intent to challenge audience endurance: sets that began at earplug- oxidizing volume escalated precipitously, culminating in an epic dissertation on a single chord — a D to be precise — that often passed the 20-minute mark.