Kevin Shields and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig met in a karate competition in Dublin in 1979. They formed punk rock band the Complex with Liam Ó Maonlaí, but Maonlaí left to form Hothouse Flowers. Their classic lineup took a while to take shape – My Bloody Valentine’s early recordings are largely overlooked, but featured vocalist David Conway.
Shields and Ó Cíosóig spent years slogging around with little success, eventually joined by bassist Debbie Googe. 1987 was a breakthrough year as they recruited vocalist Bilinda Butcher and released the ‘Strawberry Wine’ single. The b-sides showcased Kevin Shields’ developing guitar style – he’d hold down the tremolo and add layers of reverb, resulting in a dreamy sound later known as shoe-gaze.
The sound of God sneezing in slow motion.
My Bloody Valentine are most fondly known for their 1991 album Loveless, but there’s plenty of other strong work between 1987 and 1991. Shields, the band’s main writer, struggled to follow up Loveless – two albums were reportedly scrapped, members drifted away, and My Bloody Valentine disbanded in 1997. The classic lineup reunited in 2007, and the album m b v arrived in 2012.
My Bloody Valentine album reviews
This Is Your Bloody Valentine
A mini album with Conway on vocals and early keyboardist Tina Durkin. I’ve never heard it and it’s not widely available – Wikipedia describes it as post-punk and gothic rock. Some of the same material surfaced on the live album Man You Love To Hate, from the same year.
The band’s third release of 1985 was their first with Debbie Googe on bass.
The New Record by My Bloody Valentine (EP)
On their third studio release, Conway was still My Bloody Valentine’s lead vocalist. The group apparently started to head toward poppier tunes and noisier guitars here, setting the scene for their later work.
ECSTASY and Wine
1987, compilation released 1989, 7/10
The 1987 single ‘Sunny Sundae Smile’ was the band’s last release with David Conway. My Bloody Valentine released two subsequent records in 1987 – the single ‘Strawberry Wine’ and the mini-album Ecstasy. These were the band’s first releases with Bilinda Butcher on vocals and guitar. In the wake of the success of Isn’t Anything, this single and mini-album were re-released as the compilation Ecstasy and Wine. The band were on a different record label by the time of Isn’t Anything, and Shields wasn’t impressed by Lazy Records issuing this compilation without permission. He strong-armed 10,000 copies of the record from the label’s manager and later sold them to fund his recording projects in the 1990s.
Ecstasy and Wine often feels a little formative compared to the group’s distinctive subsequent work, but it stands proudly as a satisfying album and it’s interesting to hear them developing their style. You can hear two major strands of their sound developing – Shields’ signature guitar sound is developing on songs like ‘Clair’, while tracks like the jangly ‘Strawberry Fine’ showcase their vocals, with Butcher and Shields singing in tandem. Ó Cíosóig’s drumming is more extroverted and central than on subsequent releases. The band’s songwriting would also develop – these tracks aren’t as memorable as their more celebrated later work.
Ecstasy and Wine is formative, but if you adore their later work it’s worth going back to hear their origins.
It took My Bloody Valentine nearly a decade after their formation to make their first full-length album. Most of Isn’t Anything was recorded in two weeks in a Welsh studio – astonishingly productive for a record that’s so rich sounding. Butcher recorded many of her vocals early in the morning after she’d woken up, which she claims made her sound languorous. Isn’t Anything receives less attention than Loveless, but it’s still fascinating – the band apply their wall-of-sound guitar textures and dreamy vocals to songs that are often short and punchy.
Where Loveless often used drum loops, the live drums of Isn’t Anything make it punchier and more vital. And while Loveless forms a coherent soundscape, Isn’t Anything is more diverse as the group finds their style. Opener ‘Soft as Snow (but Warm Inside)’ is almost funky, the Shields-fronted tracks like ‘You Never Should’ approach punk, while ‘Lose My Breath’ is gentle. The best tracks mix the pretty and the abrasive – ‘When You Wake (You’re Still in a Dream)’ combines a tough guitar riff with pretty vocals.
My Bloody Valentine would make even more unique music on Loveless, but Isn’t Anything is also captivating.
Already the leader, Shields wrested almost complete control of My Bloody Valentine for their second album. He performed the vast majority of the music. Butcher contributes vocals on four tracks, and Ó Cíosóig was struggling with health issues and only played live drums on a couple of songs. Shields constructed drum loops from Ó Cíosóig’s playing for the other tracks. Shields also took control of the production – unsuitable engineers were relegated to making tea, and Alan Moulder (aka Flood) was the only technician whom Shields would work with. The prolonged recording process reportedly sent Creation Records close to bankruptcy, and they were bought out by Sony. Despite the tumult, Shields’ vision resulted in one of the most acclaimed records of its decade.
Loveless explodes out of the gate with ‘Only Shallow’, juxtaposing a huge and dissonant riff with gentle Butcher vocals – it’s the crown jewel in a sterling career. Oddly, another of my favourites on ‘Loveless’ is the brief interlude ‘Touched’ – written and produced by Ó Cíosóig, it alternates syrupy strings with dissonant guitar to great effect. ‘When You Sleep’ and ‘I Only Said’ are both terrific songs that couldn’t have come from any other band, blending cavernous riffs with pop sensibilities. The lengthy closer ‘Soon’ heads closer to the dance floor than you might expect.
Loveless is an immense sophomore record, Shields obsessively realising his musical vision.
When My Bloody Valentine released remastered versions of Loveless and Isn’t Anything in 2012, they included a third album, a two-disc compilation of their non-album material between 1988 and 1991. It’s comprised of four EPs – You Made Me Realise (1988), Feed Me with Your Kiss (1988), Glider (1990) and Tremolo (1991) – as well as appending some unreleased tracks. It coincides with the band’s peak period – 1988’s You Made Me Realise feels like their fully-fledged effort. There’s some crossover with the albums – ‘Soon’ appears on Loveless, and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ appeared on Isn’t Anything – but the version of ‘To Here Knows When’ is different, and most of these tracks are fresh and existing.
And a lot of these tracks are excellent. ‘Drive It All Over Me’ is the last remnant of the group’s jangly phase on ‘Ecstasy and Wine’, sounding a little like The Beatles’ ‘Lady Madonna’. ‘Honey Power’ is a rare My Bloody Valentine credited only to Butcher, with the trick of juxtaposing her dreamy vocals against tough guitars even more pronounced than usual. ‘Glider’, named for Shields’ glide guitar technique, is included twice, once in a ten-minute remix. The previously unreleased tracks aren’t standouts among such illustrious company, but ‘Angel’ is lovely.
EP’s 1988-1991 is impressive – if you adore Isn’t Anything and Loveless, you should pick it up as well.
M B V
My Bloody Valentine drifted apart during the 1990s. The recording of 2013’s m b v started in 1996 when Butcher and Shields were the only band members remaining. Shields ceased working on the project in 1997 when the band broke up, but he had laid the foundations for a follow-up album by this point. m b v largely consists of those songs that Shields had started in 1996 and 1997. ‘She Found Now’ is the only song started during the band’s reunion – the rest were the result of the band working on Shields’ earlier recordings.
Perhaps because of its 1990s origins, it feels as though the band have never been away, like a natural continuation of Loveless. The quality is high, although I find it the least enjoyable of the band’s three albums as it sometimes gets bogged down in sludgy tempos and guitars, like on ‘Only Tomorrow’ and ‘Nothing 2’. The best moments are most effervescent – ‘New You’ is surprisingly danceable, while ‘In Another Way’ is fast-paced, based around a distinctive riff that sounds almost like a horn part.
m b v is an impressive comeback, the group sounding like they’d never been away.
10 Best My Bloody Valentine Songs
When You Sleep
When You Wake (You’re Still in a Dream)
I Only Said
You Never Should
In Another Way
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