My Bloody Valentine’s 20 greatest songs – ranked!

Ten years since the release of their last album, mbv, we celebrate the greatest tracks by a band best known for its sonically extreme offerings

20. (Please) Lose Yourself in Me (1987)

You Made Me Realise was a striking, game-changing single by a band who had been largely ignored. You could understand why people thought it came out of nowhere, but it hadn’t. On (Please) Lose Yourself in Me, from 1987’s mini-album Ecstasy, you can hear My Bloody Valentine inching towards the noisily blurred-but-beautiful sound in Kevin Shields’ head.

19. Instrumental No 2 (1988)

Shields often claimed to be more interested in hip-hop and dance music than other guitar bands, and you could hear their influence on Instrumental No 2, which set a particularly haunting ambient guitar – alternately dreamlike and threatening – to the same Public Enemy-sourced drum loop that Madonna later used on Justify My Love.

18. Drive It All Over Me (1988)

Tucked away at the end of the You Made Me Realise EP, Drive It All Over Me was the last time MBV would sound like a conventional indie band – although the fizzing noise over its final 30 seconds is pretty bracing – a reminder that beneath the sonic experiments, they wrote fantastic pop songs.

17. In Another Way (2013)

My Bloody Valentine: In Another Way – video

The latter part of the mbv album is where its most challenging music lies: the relentless instrumental Nothing Is, the head-spinning Wonder 2 and In Another Way, on which a ferocious breakbeat underpins guitar so distorted it feels as if your speakers are fritzing, feedback that sounds like free-blowing soprano sax, and an innocuously sweet Bilinda Butcher vocal.

16. No More Sorry (1988)

The popular line is that MBV’s lyrics are inaudible, incomprehensible and thus of secondary importance. Not always: No More Sorry’s stark depiction of a physically abusive relationship is chilling, and the accompanying wall of sound, in which every instrument, including the drums, sounds as if it’s trembling, is a perfect compliment.

Photo of Bilinda Butcher (right) and Anna Quimby live onstage in 1992.
Photo of Bilinda Butcher (right) and Anna Quimby live onstage in 1992. Photograph: Ian Dickson/Redferns

15. Thorn (1988)

Shields said MBV’s sound was at least partly inspired by the guitar overload of Dinosaur Jr. You can hear their influence on Thorn (there’s a YouTube video of Shields playing it onstage with them at ear-splitting volume), although, clearly, the lead guitar, swaying and screaming throughout, is entirely his invention.

14. Come in Alone (1991)

A perfect example of Loveless’s inexplicable, impenetrable sound: what on earth is going on during the section that passes for its main riff? What’s playing the melody? A guitar? A synthesiser? A sampler manipulating feedback? Who is singing the verses, on which the voice gradually seems to switch from male to female?

13. Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside) (1988)

MBV could have filled Isn’t Anything with songs that sounded like its arresting advance singles, but part of the album’s brilliance is its willingness to take their new sound in surprising directions, as demonstrated by its bullishly hip-hop-influenced opening track: early evidence that MBV were not given to doing what people expected.

12. Sometimes (1991)

MBV’s influences were always hard to make out, particularly by the time they reached 1991’s Loveless, an album that really didn’t sound like anyone else. That said, there is something faintly Lennon-esque about the tune of Sometimes, at least until midway through the track, when the vocal gives way to its gorgeous extended sigh of a coda.

11. Off Your Face (1990)

Uncharacteristically driven by acoustic guitar, Off Your Face is another reminder of MBV’s overlooked melodic skills: Butcher’s vocals are incomprehensible – she sounds both drowsy and elated, like someone who has recently been having a very good time indeed – but whatever she is singing, the tune she is singing it to is entrancing.

10. Only Tomorrow (2013)

The first MBV album in 22 years was made up of songs Shields had apparently abandoned as not good enough before changing his mind, which says everything about his perfectionism and nothing about their quality, as evidenced by the churning but lovely Only Tomorrow. The instrumental coda is sublime.

Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine backstage in London, 1990.
Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine backstage in London, 1990. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

9. Honey Power (1991)

The songs on the Tremolo EP were every bit as good as those on Loveless, the album that followed. Primary evidence is Honey Power’s seasick, tremolo-arm-abusing riff and becalmed verses. And also the always-exhilarating clatter and tumble of Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drumming, sadly absent from much of Loveless, is much in evidence.

8. All I Need (1988)

My Bloody Valentine: All I Need – video

Isn’t Anything at its most sonically extreme and disorientating, All I Need is three minutes of WTF? The drums are a heartbeat-like pulse, the guitars scream past like cars, a pretty vocal lurks somewhere in their midst: every element of the track appears to be coming untethered, but it somehow holds together.

7. Feed Me With Your Kiss (1988)

The second stunning MBV single of 1988 was simultaneously heavy and sickly sounding. The riff lurches and pounds, the drumming is explosive, but Shields and Butcher sound as if they can barely muster the energy to sing. Instead of a chorus, the song seems to collapse before staggering to its feet again.

6. When You Sleep (1991)

Its songs segueing into each other, or linked by interstitial music, Loveless can feel like one long track, an end-to-end listen from which it is hard to pick highlights. Even so, When You Sleep stands out: its blissful melody and smeared multitracked vocals evoke a stoned, uncertain kind of euphoria.

My Bloody Valentine in New York in the 1990s.
My Bloody Valentine in New York in the 1990s. Photograph: Steve Eichner/Getty Images

5. Wonder II (2013)

The only released example of MBV’s much-vaunted 90s experiments in drum’n’bass, Wonder II is an extraordinary track. The breakbeat is somewhere in the far distance, swathed with effects. What’s happening upfront is a disorienting blizzard of sound that keeps slipping through the listener’s fingers: it’s both confounding and awesome.

4. Slow (1988)

The song that introduced Shields’ newly discovered “glide guitar” technique, in which tremolo arm, digital delay and detuning combined to create a sound that appears to hover unsteadily above Slow’s grinding bass and drums: a cocktail that mirrors the lyric, a heavy-lidden paean to sex, alternately beatific and sleazy.

3. Soon (1990)

My Bloody Valentine: Soon – video

By the time of 1990’s Glider EP, MBV had inadvertently inspired enough imitators to fill an entire subgenre, shoegaze. Soon was the sound of them pulling away from their devotees: the rhythm funkier than the era’s standard-issue baggy breakbeat, the song structure cyclical and hypnotic. (Also: incredible Andrew Weatherall remix.)

2. You Made Me Realise (1988)

MBV’s breakthrough, the thrilling moment when they fully embodied Shields’ dream of “pure noise and pure melody”, was a song that stopped listeners in their tracks: its furious, pummelling riff and stop-start structure at odds with the languorous, alluring vocals, the 40-second gust of beatless noise that splits it in two.

1. To Here Knows When (1991)

My Bloody Valentine: To Here Knows When – video

When the Tremolo EP arrived at MBV’s record label, the consensus was that the tape was defective, a sentiment shared by buyers who returned it to the shops, convinced the CD was faulty. Surely no one would intend music to sound like To Here Knows When: drums and vocals barely audible beneath a huge, woozy noise, heaving, pitching and distorting like a badly tuned radio, apparently at random? Brian Eno, on the other hand, called it “a new standard for pop”: strange and strangely beautiful, the rule-breaking musical equivalent of a waking dream. Thirty-two years on, it’s still baffling, magical and unique.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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