My Bloody Valentine: m b v – review


Beethoven, we know, had tinnitus. "My ears whistle and buzz all day and night. I can say I am leading a wretched life," he wrote. Ironically, sound therapies based on Beethoven and Mozart's music are now used to alleviate the condition, treating like with like.

My Bloody Valentine – the wayward scions of noise-pop who released their third album last Saturday – might have unwittingly hit upon a treatment for the vertigo of Ménière's disease. There's a trademark unsteadiness to all of the Valentines' music, often transcendental, sometimes actually sickening, from their breakthrough EPs to their 1988 debut Isn't Anything, via their last blast, 1991's Loveless, to this nine-track reiteration-cum-rejuvenation of their contradictory sound.

Still, after an absence of more than 20 years it's the most aggressively amniotic stuff going. The lead track, She Found Now, picks up more or less where Loveless left off, with guitarist Bilinda Butcher cooing shapeless nothings, Valentine-in-chief Kevin Shields crooning back, guitars flanging, and an urgent aortic throb underpinning all the gauziness. You can imagine fans punching the air at this point, in the blessed relief that this long, long, long-awaited album doesn't induce a desire to kick the cat in disappointment.

Shields (who plays everything apart from the drums and Butcher's larynx) hasn't revealed whether he suffers from any underlying medical condition that might make the Valentines' music so distinctive. Even if he had, our disinclination to reduce art to biology would only make it of passing relevance. (If his muse were flesh and bone, however, you might conclude that she'd taken skip-loads of drugs.)

For this is giddy, cell-purging stuff that thoroughly recalibrates the art of contemporary sound-making, which so often circles the same groove rut. As She Found Now gives way to the ballsier Only Tomorrow and its late-flowering guitar melody rises up from the mulch, it's clear that Shields can still produce Valentines-calibre music. This has been in grave doubt, given the rumours of entire albums scrapped, and the appetite-whetting guest slots with Patti Smith (The Coral Sea, 2005-6) and Primal Scream. Track three, Who Sees You, finds polyphonic whale-song guitars lying on a bed of collywobbles, as they should.

Then it gets interesting. Almost ambient, Is This and Yes is a palate-cleanser in which pristine analogue synth sounds replace Shields's guitar assault. That it's probably all done with guitars, heavily treated, just reminds you what a perverse talent Shields is.

At some point on albums such as these, philistines usually demand seasickness pills and tunes. The double whammy of If I Am and New You not only finds MBV's traditional skills coming into focus, but Butcher in full-on kittenish mode. Her "doot doot doos" on New You are pure pop. Something is "pinning her to the sky" – precisely the feeling that greeted New You when the Valentines played it live the other week.

Suddenly a squall like a detuned bagpipe announces that Shields is about to pull the rug out from the listener's feet again. Apart from its outmoded baggy beat, In Another Way finds an untravelled path for Shields's sound, one in which the bagpipey guitar acts as a victorious fanfare.

It's followed by glorious, fangs-out systems music (Nothing Is) and a last hurrah, Wonder 2, in which the Beach Boys are tossed into a blender. This, finally, is the stuff people have been waiting a young lifetime to hear. It more than passes muster. More than that, mbv takes hold of your battered, puny Eustachian tubes and redefines which way is up. A thumbs-up from NICE will surely follow.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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