It is impossible to imagine the landscape of alternative music without the upheaval of the industry. Without love, which came out 30 years ago.
When My Bloody Valentine burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, no one knew what to think. Their almost mystical balance of loud and ethereal listeners baffled listeners with what felt like some sort of mutation of Cocteau Twins’ dreamy pop, the noise pop of The Jesus and Mary Chain, and a pinch of subversive post-punks weariness.
What emerged was a group that were the leaders of a new category of rock that was making waves in the UK and Ireland, their name: shoegaze.
The name is quite literal, considering the excessive use of guitar pedals that kept their guitarists’ eyes fixed on their feet. during the execution. This explains the oceans of distortion, feedback vortices, and sheer volume that characterize acts of “shoegazing”.
Although My Bloody Valentine did not rely as much on pedals as their contemporaries due to Kevin Shields’ ingenious discovery that the oscillation of a guitar’s tremolo bar – a pitch shifting system that can briefly change the pitch of a guitar – brings the guitar in and out of tune creating the effect of sounding like there are thousands of guitars when there really is only one. This use of a tremolo arm to produce endlessly multiplying string sounds, alternating between tuned and detuned, is known as “slippery guitar”. Shields was to be credited as the pioneer of this technique.
Music critic Pierro Scarrifi called shoegaze “the equivalent of zen for the punk generation”. They are a kind of bridge between the psychedelia of the 60s and the punk of the 70s and 90s.
Scaruffi goes on to say that without love is “the ultimate exploration of textures in rock music.” Its breathtaking chaos can be seen both as a rapturous “om” of the universe or as a disturbed cry in a madman’s cell or as a terrified paralysis in the face of a supernatural force. The album changed the meaning of the word ‘music’ by proving the equivalence between ‘noisy’ and ‘symphonic’.
The first LP of My Bloody Valentine, is nothing (1988) demonstrates this shock of noise and symphony in its early days. Check out gems like “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)” and “No More Sorry” and you can already hear where the band is heading.
However, it’s on their legendary second album, without love (1991), that the group perfected this formula. 30 years later and this record is still one of the greatest musical demonstrations of the sublime. Aside from being on most music critics’ favorite album lists, this LP maintains a decent measure of popular resistance, being fairly heavily memorized. nowadays.
The production of without love cost around $ 500,000, bankrupting the label it was released under, Creation Records. It paid off, however, because within the project’s 49-minute runtime there is a texture masterclass that will allow you to achieve the highest possible level without the use of substances.
That’s as frontman Kevin Shields explained in a interview he did with Fender, “It was the whole transcendence thing, it was like ecstasy and smoking a lot of weed, and just connecting to other worlds, while still being grounded in something pretty strong.”
The band released a handful of EPs before without love‘release that foreshadowed the sound they were heading towards that they had teased is nothing. Notably, the songs “To Here Knows When” by their Tremolo EP released in 1991 and “Soon” out of the 90s Glider EP, both were recorded on disc and are two of the most notable tracks, which is saying a lot given the fierce competition.
The opening track “Only Shallow” is perhaps the most visceral track on the record. The sound of four strokes of the wand echoes before an explosion of swaying and failing guitar strings immediately strikes with a wall of sound behind them. Guitar chords bend and resonate in ways that are impossible, as this distortion distortion hits the listener to the point of appreciating the disturbance rather than resisting it.
Because of the noise, it’s easy to forget that there is an inherent sweetness to these songs in the form of melodic vignettes located just below the abrasive haze. Take track five, “When You Sleep,” one of the main singles, which carries one of the most rudimentary hooks and in doing so reveals what most tracks cleverly hide: it’s pop music to the base. More candy-coated mayhem can be found on the shimmering “Blown a Wish,” which sees the enchanting voice of co-singer Belinda Butcher at its most powerful, buzzing in a way that both rocks and energizes.
Speaking of voice, without love is perhaps the most androgenic record ever produced, as Butcher and Kevin Shields swap lines and often mix their heavily modulated vocals. Moreover, this album, instrumentally speaking, bridges the masculinity of punk and the femininity of pop in an expert manner; this could explain the transcendent feelings that this disc solicits from its listeners. It embraces the ambiguity of identity to one of the most fundamental aspects of self-definition, gender.
Track eight, titled “Sometimes”, only features Kevin Shields’ vocals and his performance on this track is the smoothest on the record; accompanied by the sweetest instrumental of the lot. Conversely, Butcher’s vocals tend to be on louder tracks such as “What You Want” and “Only Shallow”. “Sometimes” is the record that comes closest to a full-fledged ballad and is a perfect example of this playful destruction of genre-based style expectations.
“Loomer” is one of the more low-key moments on this album. It’s the closest the band gets to their late 1980s material, but it still maintains a level of complexity and grandeur that keeps it aesthetically linked to this project.
Track three, “Touched”, is the most criticized by fans for being unnecessary. However, it’s a nice interlude that nicely kicks off the midsection of the record, setting up what is the strongest song on the tracklist.
The song in question is said to be the aforementioned “To Here Knows When”. This song is easily the centerpiece of without love. It’s a psychedelic masterpiece, plunging the listener into a kaleidoscopic tunnel of ephemeral electronic textures and overwhelming peripheral distortion that engulfs endlessly. And then there’s this hypnotic tambourine which, due to the minimal use of drums, is the only thing that keeps the song from flying too close to the sun (the tambourine notoriously took a week to register in order to meet Shield’s perfectionism standards). It’s five and a half magical minutes of indescribable happiness.
“I Only Said” is a triumphant explosion of guitars that sound like wing saws cutting the center of production. The hook consists of that high-pitched, whistling melody that will have you coming back for another hit. The upbeat vibe of this song contrasts nicely with the following “Come In Alone” which is more contemplative, possessing a darker tone that is only momentarily relieved by the ecstasy of Butcher’s modulated cooing over the chorus.
The record ends on a more rooted note with the last track “Soon”. On this song, the guitars are more direct, the rest of the instrumental fades in front of the deep and catchy riffs, which in turn creates a feeling of acceleration. It is as if My Bloody Valentine were saying, “You have reached the end, you only have a little left to do.”
In the 30 years since its release, nothing on this album has aged badly and that’s what gives it this strange feeling of purity. Even the most beloved classic albums usually have flaws – whether it’s a particular song, line, or instrumental choice – which, while not sounding terrible on its own, dates it. strongly. The shocking instrumental breakup of the second half of In the courtyard of the Crimson King’s “Moon child”; Graduation‘s downright offensive “Drunk and Hot Girls”; Child Athe cheap cult of Brian Eno on “Treefingers”; No matter’is distressed “Smells like Teen Spirit”; Revolver‘s “Yellow Submarine” – and so on. Such a defect cannot be found on without love. It’s an easy album to place in the 1990s, but it hangs on the mainstream musical clichés of that decade by being a piece of focused, uncompromising originality with no close musical analogs to this day.
My Bloody Valentine’s second album single-handedly redefined the contours of rock music, continuing the legacy of founding groups such as The Velvet Underground.
Released towards the end of the 20th century, as the “death of rock” in the music industry began to become palpable as electronica and hip hop were on the verge of conquering mainstream audiences, it is no exaggeration to say that without love was the most impactful last word on rock music in its heyday.