My Bloody Valentine's long-awaited follow-up to their 1991 seminal drone pop masterpiece Loveless was Chinese Democracy for the cool kids. Like Axl Rose's ill-fated and much-delayed comeback attempt, the existence of MBV had long ago become a bittersweet joke in hipster circles. So when Kevin Shields casually announced at a live gig last week that the much-mythologized album would finally be dropping in a few days, no one knew how to react, other than to make wisecracks on the Internet.
Of course when it finally appeared on their website, the overwhelming traffic due to all that pent-up anticipation resulted in the site crashing immediately, and it stayed that way for quite a while. With a normal band, we'd all have just listened to the stream while we waited for them to fix their online store, but instead all that was available were YouTube clips that were edited so that you lost the beginning and end of the tracks. This is not how you want to first experience an album that you've been waiting for this long, so we waited longer.
When the website went back online, it quickly became clear that Kevin Shields and friends hadn't spent the last two decades learning how to use in the internet. Many people found that the site conked out before the download started, while those on some browsers couldn't even see the checkout button you needed to click to finalize the transaction. It started to feel like Shields might have just pulled off the most epic prank in the history of indie rock.
I'm going to be honest: after trying very hard to give My Bloody Valentine my money for an overpriced download, I eventually gave up and resorted to piracy. I will buy the vinyl when it appears in stores, which seems like a fair enough compromise if the band are going to make it this hard to buy a download legally. Maybe this was all just a plot to force us to listen to it on vinyl instead of MP3s? Nevertheless, the high resolution download option is a nice touch, and something that more acts should attempt.
It was hard to not be apprehensive about clicking play on MBV for the first time. Comebacks in general rarely work out, and I can't think of any act that would be able to live up to the absurd expectations for an album like this. It can't sound too much like Loveless, or that would mean they haven't grown, but it also can't be a drastic reinvention. There's pretty much no way to win when you're trying to live up to the aura of such a seminal album as Loveless has become.
Sure, it may not have sold a ton of records, and didn't accidentally kickstart two decades of post-grunge bro-rock like Nirvana's Nevermind did. But that's kind of the point - Loveless is one of the key inspirations behind most of the music that Pitchfork has been creaming their jeans about forever. The promise of grunge yielded to extreme disappointment so early, while shoegazer took 15 years to really start to have a strong effect on the larger culture. There's a hell of a lot of hope pinned on this album, even though there's no feasible way for it to have a similar impact as its predecessor.
After living with MBV for the past 24 hours, I'm happy to say that I'm not disappointed. It hasn't redefined the way I hear music like Loveless did, but it has changed the way I feel about 90s band reunions and comeback attempts.
Had MBV been released two decades ago, I firmly believe it would have been heralded as a worthy successor to Loveless. There's notable evolution in both songwriting and sound, but without sacrificing any of what blew our minds the first time around. The vision and overall flow of the album actually seems tighter, although there's nothing that sounds quite as disorienting and alien as Loveless's dramatic opening song Only Shallow.
But they didn't release it in the 90s, and so it becomes part nostalgia piece, part cutting edge art. Some of the beats are clearly leftovers from another era, as are some of the production techniques. What saves it from being a completely retro exercise is that no one has ever successfully emulated the band's trademark sound since they went into extended hibernation, despite their innumerable imitators. This prevents MBV from falling prey to that photocopy-of-a-photocopy effect that many legacy acts suffer from.
If you're a fan, you can stop holding your breath and pick up MBV without fearing that your good memories of the band will be forever sullied. If you're not already a fan, take the next couple weeks to listen to their old recordings, and then take the plunge.