Playing God
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless



disclaimer: This writer of this issue of Playing God does not wish to in any way imply with this piece that My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is in any way not a masterpiece. It is absolutely fabulous as is, and if perhaps the writer does not feel it is quite the achievement that some say, it is certainly a landmark achievement and quite worthy of the general acclaim and such.

That being said, it is still not my My Bloody Valentine outing of choice. Most people refer to Isn’t Anything as simply “the precursor to Loveless,” the one that points the way to brilliance but is not quite brilliant itself. But for a long time now, I’ve preferred it to Loveless, almost always choosing to listen to it when given a choice between the two. It’s because while Loveless’s unchanging mood and constant tone is in many ways what people love so much about the album, it’s also a bit of a detriment, preventing the songs from coming through on their own merits. It’s been nearly three years since my first encounter with Loveless, and up until researching for this article, I still did not know how “Sometimes” went. I constantly confused “Loomer” with “Touched,” “Come in Alone” with “I Only Said”.

Now naturally, in the context of the album, these songs all worked fabulously, complementing each other and building a sonic symphony of sorts that worked better as a 53-minute dream than as an 11-track collection of songs. But by the eight track, I yearn for songs of distinction, more songs like “Soon,” “When You Sleep,” or even the curio “Touched” over even more surrealist haze. This is perhaps why I prefer Isn’t Anything—while that album had plenty of gauzy pop songs, it also had more low-key, distortionless coo-ers like “Nothing Much to Lose” and “Lose My Breath,” and pure pop-punk blasts like “When You Wake (You’re Still in a Dream)” and their career highlight, “Feed Me With Your Kiss.” It even started with a funk song! And because of this contrast, the gorgeous guitar swirls on that album (the peerless “All I Need” and “No More Sorry”) stood out that much more.

So I have reinvested new life and energy into Loveless in an attempt to give it a similar dynamic. Because, when you get down to it, Loveless really has no need for both “I Only Said” and “Blown a Wish,” for both “Loomer” and “Sometimes,” for either “Only Shallow” or “Come in Alone”. And during this time, My Bloody Valentine was still doing some of the most creative, forward-looking, energetic material they had ever come up with—nothing on Loveless sears like “Honey Power,” or is as propulsive as their cover of Wire’s “Map Ref 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees W”. The songs culled from the Glider and Tremolo EPs were among their best work yet, and while perhaps their exclusion from Loveless was a sensible one because they did not fit in with the singular mood and sound, I now present my revision of Loveless, just to see what it could have been.

1. “Sugar” (Only Shallow b-side)

“Only Shallow”--the traditional Loveless opener, recent inclusion on Pop Matters’ “100 Best Songs of the Last 25 Years” and the subject of a particularly gushing recent Seconds article here on Stylus—has no place on my version of Loveless. Beyond the first ten seconds—and what a fabulous ten seconds they are—“Only Shallow” does nothing, goes nowhere, merely setting the mood for the rest of the album, a pattern which I wish to abolish with this re-edit. Still, that opening effect—the drums, then that peerless first chord—is damn near impossible to find anywhere else. So, I am not trying, opting instead to open with the “Shallow” b-side, “Sugar,” a sweet, low-key sort of tune more akin to Isn’t Anything’s opener, “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)”. Although no good quality rips of this song seem to exist, it is as fine an MBV song as any, quite different than anything they were doing at the time—exactly the kind of dynamic I want to open my Loveless.

2. “When You Sleep” (album track)

This is probably my favorite song on the original album. That twisting (synth?) part, the waves upon waves of harmonizing oooohs, and the octave splitting duet between lead singers Belinda Butcher and Kevin Shields on the verse—the words are even almost comprehensible enough to sing along to, which is the MBV equivalent of a campfire singalong. When I originally listened to Loveless my idea of alternative rock was still Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and this was the only song that really struck me, the one that kept me going on the album, and I think it’s still one of the best.

3. “Touched” (album track)

I liked having this as an interlude—it’s so utterly weird! Tribal sounding drums, a confounding moaning keyboard part, no recognizable guitars, no vocals, just something to break up the mold, to give the album a little punctuation. I had to include it. Plus, it makes a fabulous segue into the next track.

4. “To Here Knows When” (Tremolo EP/album track)

This is the best of the Loveless mood tracks, the one with the most staying power. It’s hypnotic, really—Belinda was always best when Kevin didn’t give her too many words to sing, and that’s totally evident here, her moans echoing out into infinity over some of the most awe-inspiring sounds to ever come out of a six-string. It could go on for hours, and I don’t think anybody would really mind.

5. “Map Ref. 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees W” (Whore: A Tribute to Wire compilation)

The idea of this song—the dreamiest and poppiest of dreampop bands covering post-punk legend Wire’s most dreamy and poppy song (the definitive Wire “pretty song about an unpretty topic”—cartography in this case)—sounds too good to be true. And it is. It is that good. Everything about this song makes such perfect and total sense, I’m surprised I had never composed it in my head before. It’s highly faithful to the original but simply could not be done by any other band. Enough analysis, it’s karaoke time now: INTERRUPTING MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT, LINES. OF LONGITUDE AND LATITUDE, DEFIIIIIIINE, REFIIIIIIIINE, MY ALTITUDE

6. “Don’t Ask Why” (Glider EP)

One of the simplest, most affecting pop songs Shields ever wrote—not much to this song, just some pretty vocals over a backwards-playing guitar (although it’s never clear what’s backwards and what’s forwards with MBV) and some swells and backing vocals here and there. The guitars don’t really even kick in until three minutes into the song. Still, it’s just as stunning as anything else is on my Loveless. “From the look in your face, I can see….it’s not too late”. Beautiful.

7. “Blown a Wish” (album track)

I chose to keep this because it’s one of the more distinctive songs on the original Loveless. But there’s nothing that unique about this one, it’s more Loveless by the numbers, really. Still it’s important to keep in mind that Loveless by the numbers is still a rather lovely thing, and this is one of the more memorable ones.

8. “Sometimes” (album track)

I thought this was the worst song on Loveless until I heard it isolated on the Lost in Translation soundtrack. Turns out, predictably enough, that each individual Loveless song is more powerful when separated from its similar brethren—without any other soundalikes to dull the impact, a single song from the album can be earth-shattering. And now it’s one of my favorite My Bloody Valentine songs, and the veritable centerpiece on my Loveless. Thanks, Sofia Coppola.

9. “Honey Power” (Tremolo EP)

When designing a best-of mix for a band I love, I always try to come up with a creative title—taken from a line from one of the band’s songs, or by another’s famous comment on the band, or by a song title that appropriately summarizes the entire band. My MBV mix would certainly be titled “Honey Power”—what an awesome name! The song more than lives up to it, too, probably the most destructive thing that Shields ever wrote, a powerhouse riff that proves how much My Bloody Valentine could have been capable of in their post-Loveless careers.

10. “Glider” (Glider EP)

I essentially just added this to give the second side its “Touched,” for the sake of balance. This works a similar charm, except this one sounds more like the hum of a slickly oiled machine scraping against itself. It’s nothing too special, but it’s short, and it’s a similarly nice interlude. Warning: avoid the Kevin Shields remix of “Glider”. It’s the same thing, except nearly six minutes longer. Deathly monotonous.

11. “Off Your Face” (Glider EP)

This is an MBV fan favorite, and for good reason. Its charm is similar to the other Glider track on this album, “Don’t Ask Why,” in its simplicity and poppiness. There are only so many words with which one can describe My Bloody Valentine, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used them all already (twice at least) so I’m just going to move on.

12. “What You Want” (album track)

I always remembered this one as the one with the drum part—yes, beneath Belinda’s “I do I do I do”s and the typical Loveless roar, it’s the drum break that stands out in this one. One of the constant (and only) complaints thrown at Loveless is that the production on the drums is so shitty—and Shields did sort of sell them short—but they do play a key factor in some of the songs, like this one, and especially the next one. The transition between these two tracks is probably the highlight of the original album, so I had to keep it.

13. “Soon” (album track/Glider EP)

In the post-“Loaded” atmosphere of early 90s UK indie, all sorts of unexpected bands were coming out of the woodwork with rock/dance crossovers. I don’t think anyone could have expected My Bloody Valentine to do one, though—or that it would be one of the best singles of the 90s. I mean honestly, who knew that the Valentine could really fucking groove? The keyboard hook is one of the best ever, the beat is addictive, an even though Belinda’s bland vocals on the verse threaten to suck the energy out of the whole thing, but she makes up for it with her trademark ah-ahs at the end. As the closer to the original Loveless, “Soon” was all the more stunning, as it sounded completely incongruous with the previous 45 minutes, and yet somehow seemed a totally natural conclusion. And the title is full of such promise—if that was what My Bloody Valentine was capable of, god knows what they could have conquered next—but the promise of “Soon” was never followed up, and the unlimited potential of one of the most talented bands ever went untapped.

14. “Moon Song” (Tremolo EP)

This song simply couldn’t be anywhere except in the last slot. After about three minutes of Belinda’s “ah-ah”s, you get a rare Kevin solo (just him, the guitars and some chimes on this one) that predicts Interpol’s similarly gorgeous “NYC” by about 12 years. “Because you are the only one,” he insists. I’m sure that means something. A low-key cap to complement a low-key beginning.


By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2003-09-30
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