2.5 stars (out of 4)
After a deafening 21-year silence, My Bloody Valentine finally got around to releasing “m b v” Saturday on its Web site (mybloodyvalentine.org), the follow-up to one of the more revered and influential albums of recent decades.
The U.K. quartet’s last previous studio release, “Loveless” (1991), isn’t just considered a cult classic, it introduced a new musical language. It also inspired a legion of disciples in the same way that modest-selling masterpieces such as “The Velvet Underground and Nico” (1967), “Neu!” (1972), “Suicide” (1977) and Big Black’s “Atomizer” (1986) once did.
“Loveless” resonated as a guitar-driven album in which the guitars were disguised as radio static. Kevin Shields, the group’s studio-obsessed mastermind, created a sound that simultaneously lulled and lacerated, an aural blur that suggested bed spins or vertigo. Submerged within the ocean of distortion were melodies as soothing as lullabies. Brian Eno called “Soon,” a single from “Loveless,” "the vaguest music ever to have been a hit," and he meant it as compliment.
In that respect, “m b v” picks up right where “Loveless” left off – it’s almost comforting to realize that My Bloody Valentine’s music still sounds defective, as if it were cut into a vinyl record that’s been left out in the sun too long.
“She Found Now” oozes over the distant horizon, intermittent chords and soft voices barely audible amid a thick wave of white noise, like the ghosts of 1991. “Only Tomorrow” is more strident: who needs a memorable chorus when you’ve got the sound of a rocket engine soaring into the stratosphere as a hook? That jet-propelled zoom launches an actual guitar solo that consumes about half of the six-minute song. “Who Sees You” kicks in with Colm O'Coisoig’s drums finally nearer the top of the mix where they belong, and the trumpet-like guitars try to punch through the distortion veil. Overall, the opening trio of songs offers a paler version of the revolutionary "Loveless" sound.
The album takes a turn in its middle third with “Is This and Yes,” essentially a long palette cleanser devoid of guitars. Organ chords, at times sounding like chirping crickets, and a low-end rumble swallow Bilinda Butcher’s disembodied voice. “If I Am” conjures up a warped take on lounge music, with breezy rhythms and breathy vocals muddled together in the tiki bar that time forgot. The pop payoff arrives with "New You," among the most immediate songs My Bloody Valentine has ever released. The trampoline-like bass keeps everything buoyant: shimmering guitar, a lovely keyboard line counterpointing a wordless female vocal, goosed by little giddy-up drum fills (and even one brief, well-timed drum break).
For those who might consider “New You” almost frighteningly conventional, the album’s final three songs serve as the antidote. The aptly titled “In another Way" gallops out of the gate and plunges into a wall of wailing bagpipes-like effects. Rather than taking it slow and dreamy, the guitars assume a more aggressive persona; they bark, snarl and lunge out over the percussion. The attack escalates on “Nothing Is,” which approximates the industrial-punk aggression of Ministry in late ‘80s take-no-prisoners mode. Call it mission overload, an oppressive stomp designed to obliterate the aftertaste of “New You.” It clears a path for the closing “Wonder 2,” which fills the sky with imaginary vapor trails, and creates the illusion of being strapped Icarus-like into a jet eight miles high and climbing.
With expectations equally stratospheric for “m b v” after a two-decade wait, it’s difficult to imagine how My Bloody Valentine could possibly have measured up. Instead, Shields and his bandmates have made a transitional album, one that nods to the band’s storied peak but winds up heading in a new direction. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 22 years to find out where they land.
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