Album Review: m b v

*editor’s note: this was written in February and I somehow didn’t publish; sorry if it feels stale

Last year, I stepped into P-Rex Los Angeles and found a used edition of My Bloody Valentine’s debut CD Isn’t Anything priced considerably less than ten dollars. It was nothing short of a steal, and I walked up to the store purveyor/cashier as soon as I snapped it up from its orange crate, intending to listen to it as soon as I made the walk back to my house. He exhaled slightly, looking at the disc.

“I gotta tell you man,” he said, “that’s the second printing of the CD. The liner notes are a bit different and it’s not so much of a collector’s item.”

I shrugged. “I’m sure it sounds the same,” I replied. He smiled. I figured he had trouble selling that same disc in the past, marking it down so much as to get a casual fan like me to fork over my milk money.

“Yeah, it does,” he said. “Believe it or not, some people actually care about that shit.”

I believed him. If we were discussing any lesser band, my pretension buzzer might have activated, but by that time I had already spun MBV’s second album Loveless a couple dozen times and concluded that the band merited obsession. You can therefore understand my disappointment when that night I sat through Isn’t Anything in is entirety and enjoyed exactly two songs: the lovely opener “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)” and the spazzy “Suesfine.” None of the other ten droning tracks deserved comparison to the band’s far superior follow up, and I shelved the white jewel case in favor of my beloved pink one.

I’ve since come around on the album, initially dismissing it for how much it didn’t sound like Loveless, but now enjoying what really is a solid side two along with the album’s untouchable opener. It still doesn’t compare to Loveless, which remains one of the handful of albums in my collection without a skippable track, but Isn’t Anything may be one of those albums I should listen to in a vacuum.

My Bloody Valentine is unquestionably one of the most influential bands in alternative rock, but as far as material is concerned, we can only discuss those two albums because those are the only two albums the band released. Their story of breakup contributes as much to their legend as their sophomore album: after releasing their critically acclaimed debut, creative force Kevin Shields spent the next two years and a quarter of a million pounds of his label’s money in nineteen different recording studios realizing his vision that manifested on Loveless. The process almost bankrupted the label, which kicked them off immediately after the album’s release, and fractured tensions within the band, which split in 1992 following their tour. Since then, fans have been promised new material by Shields half a dozen times, receiving one single in 1998, and a lot of disappointed press. Understandably, when word came out last year that the new MBV album was completed, skepticism abounded, even after Sony reissued the old material back in May.

But this past week, almost as unceremoniously as the most recent Radiohead release, after 22 years of waiting, MBV released their follow up to Loveless, the simply titled m b v. Calling it alternative’s Chinese Democracy isn’t enough: only fifteen years elapsed between Guns n Roses releases. If each album was conceived at the date of their previous release, m b v could drink. Chinese Democracy couldn’t drive. And while the hype surrounding Axl Rose’s project died within a few years after hair metal gave way to grunge, the want for a proper MBV follow up only festered with each passing season. It seemed cruel to many journalists that a band as important as MBV could have only two albums. This wasn’t like The Stone Roses, who had similar success in 1989 with their eponymous debut, only to crash under the pressure with their highly disappointing follow up. MBV left on top of their game because of bureaucratic spats and fatigue, and we grew accustomed to rock stars transcending all of that for their music.

The band has compensated for their ridiculously overpriced online download by uploading the album on YouTube, and in under a week the playlist has reached half a million hits. Many of the user’s comments gush with hyperbole and reflect the latent shoegaze swoon people buried deep within themselves after being hurt too many times by false promises. The early reviews on the album are stellar. I’m a bit skeptical.

The first half of the album explores every familiar sound on Loveless: swirling guitars, minimal drum sections, muffled androgynous vocals, and archaic synth patterns. It tries to be a continuation of their second album, but it misses almost entirely. It isn’t terrible, but it sounds like Loveless castaways more at home on a B-side EP. I’m sure a few more listens are required to grow on me as Isn’t Anything took, but from the opener “She Found Now” to “Is This and Yes,” the earth beneath my feet stayed still.

The second half of the album takes a different direction, and surprisingly, it picks the album up. “If I Am” sounds like sweet relief to the barrage of shoegaze potato meat, and the following track “New You” feels like a song Shields has waited twenty years to release on the world. These two songs are much more pop than trance, more The Smiths than anything MBV has done, and it succeeds in grabbing my attention much better than anything on the first half. “Nothing Is” sounds fantastic but is frustratingly repetitive, segwaying into the teapot tempest finale “Wonder 2” (not sure where the first one can be found). “Wonder 2” neither encapsulates the album nor provides a stirring coda quite like “Soon,” but it marks the band’s willingness to change. If one can take away anything from m b v, it’s how different it sounds from anything else they’ve done. No one would have blamed MBV for sticking to their formula, because not only is it a winning one, but it’s the only one they have ever used. m b v is not nearly as good as their first two, but it could have been much worse, and I’ll smile and thank the band for two or three wonderful new songs.

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