The Case Against My Bloody Valentine's mbv
Gotcha with the headline, but I'm not here to hate on mbv. I'm a fan. I've daydreamed a dozen Loveless follow-ups, but I wasn't satisfied with the ones in my head-- I needed to hear what Kevin Shields had crashing around in his. mbv is not quite what I hoped for and not quite what I expected, which is why it's such an exciting record: all my educated guesses based on the Lost in Translation soundtrack and the "Map Ref" cover and the jungle-obsessed interviews were slightly off the mark. mbv still surprised me constantly. I love it, and I'm glad many other fans are enjoying it as much.
I mean, it's unbelievable that the thing even exists. Daniel Brockman of the Boston Phoenix made my favorite comment on this: "It's like if Lucy let Charlie Brown kick the football."
It seems to me that a legendary band dropping a totally decent, arguably brilliant comeback out of nowhere-- after releasing only two tracks in the last 20 years-- would be a clear-cut cause for celebration. But there are a lot of grumps in the world, and m b v also provoked a huge run on the Internet's always-busy complaints department.
I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at some of these gripes and address them on relatively objective terms. I failed at objectivity, of course. Come to think of it, it wasn't even all that much fun: internalizing all this grousing was kind of a bummer, but it certainly left me with a better understanding of the record. Maybe you'll get something out of this too.
1. mbv isn't worth the wait.
Shortly after the album's release, The Guardian ran a poll to ask whether fans thought the record was worth the wait. 96% of respondents gave it a thumbs-up; I'm bummed for the other four percent, because the weight of their expectations may be preventing them from enjoying a very good album.
Sadly, this complaint has merit whether you agree with it or not. The wait clearly spoiled the record for many people, and the band bears much of the blame: there's no agreed-upon standard for how long an album should take to record, but I think we can all agree that this shit was a little unreasonable. Decades of anticipation (or even five years, if you're not an old person) can swell anyone's expectations all out of proportion.
Among rock's most anticipated comebacks, I don't think anyone could legitimately claim that mbv approaches the most crushing lows: it's no Chinese Democracy or Second Coming, thank god. And even if you consider it a letdown, maybe it'll hit reset on your expectations so you can properly enjoy the next one (scheduled for release in May of 3024).
2. The download-only album costs an unreasonable $16.
Yeah, that sucks. But you can hear it for free on YouTube (or, y'know, wink wink) and decide if you'd like to pay the full price. I urge you to suck it up and help poor Kevin out, since he probably still owes Island Records about $56 million.
2. Critics are clamoring to review mbv too quickly.
It's no wonder a few reviews of mbv describe the reviewer's first listening experience in excruciating autobiographical detail (see an example from the LA Times): the album dropped on critics and the public simultaneously, and we all knew there were no advance copies. Critics couldn't make like they had the drop on us; as the first reviews started rolling in, most fans were still trying to make heads or tails of their own opinions, and many were openly skeptical that reviewers could have fully solidified theirs.
But, hell, under circumstances, no amount of time is enough to let it sink in. Reviewing the decades-late successor to one of the most monolithically revered records in the rock canon is tricky whether you mull it over for two days or two decades.
Maybe the question isn't "can it be fairly reviewed so quickly" but "can it be fairly reviewed at all?"
(Note: Many sites wanted to have something up, even if it was clearly too soon for a review: Spin had a roundtable of "Impulsive Reviews," in which several writers threw out quickie scores; NME and The Quietus posted preliminary "track-by-track" write-ups, which are usually only done when the media hears a highly-anticipated record before everyone else. Even if you somehow read the pieces before hearing the album, it wouldn't help much-- they could have printed the full sheet music and a 5,000-word account of every track and you'd still have no real idea what the album sounded like.)
3. "nothing is" is a shitty song.
I disagree, but I can see why someone would think that. Just skip it, dude; we all skipped "Touched" when we listened to Loveless, and I don't recall much bitching about that.
4. Pff. My Bloody Valentine is overrated anyway.
My Bloody Valentine certainly isn't for all tastes, and it's healthy to be wary of hype. Feel free to choose the hour of greatest MBV fan triumph to chime in with your opinions on why they're overrated, and prepare for everyone to pause their enjoyment of a significant new album to appreciate your bold, iconoclastic opinions and superior critical discernment.
5. mbv won't revolutionize indie rock the way Loveless did.
That's true, but come on! Cut the poor guy a break, will you? This kind of talk is part of why he didn't release anything for so long.
6. Who cares? Some other obscure shoegaze band already made the perfect Loveless follow-up years ago.
Oddly enough, this one pops up regularly in web comments. It's inevitable that plenty of bands would have cracked the Loveless guitar code by now, but to imply that the presence of well-crafted imitators should diminish the excitement around authentic My Bloody Valentine material seems beside the point.
"Beatlesque" wasn't the primary quality that made The Beatles good; when they stopped making new albums, the world didn't just switch to Badfinger without missing a step. Most of us weren't waiting for a new My Bloody Valentine album just because we needed another hit of Jaguar tremolo wobble, I suspect-- maybe we wanted to see how Kevin Shields had developed as an artist.
So, if you see some nerd drop a comment about how Sexy Kid Toyama's Nimbosphere is actually a superior Loveless successor, feel free to tell that guy to stuff it-- he's probably the same dork who spent the 2000s comparing Interpol to Joy Division.
See Also: A Deeper Shade of Shoegaze
7. m b v caused the Super Bowl power outage.
This one is true. Partially my fault. Sorry, everyone.
Excruciating autobiographical detail: I was out of town without a laptop when the record came out, and I suffered through a night of frantic text messages from friends telling me how fantastic it was; upon returning to civilization on Sunday, I had to go straight to a friend's Super Bowl party with no time to sneak in a listen. Luckily, he was also a big MBV fan-- one with a good stereo, to boot-- so he agreed to mute the Beyonce spectacle and blast a bit of m b v at truly harrowing volume during the halftime show.
The first track, enjoyed at jet-takeoff decibels, cleared the timid from the room in seconds. The remaining brave few watched the insane Beyonce spectacle on a projector as "only tomorrow" and "who sees you" pelted us with guitar thunder; it all eerily synced up, leading to a room-melting psychedelic odyssey of sound and vision.
When we snapped out of it, the guys on TV were wondering what had blown out the stadium's power. We knew very well what did it.
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