I don’t remember when I first heard My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, but by the end of 1992 it forever changed how I listened to and heard music. Already a fan of the so-called “shoegaze” movement of guitar-driven bands mostly from the United Kingdom, I was entranced by Loveless; how it took the ethereal sounds of bands like the Cocteau Twins and the Jesus & Mary Chain to a noisier level, while combining it with the production of something like the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. My first year college roommate had a great stereo and didn’t mind loud music, so I listened to it a lot. 31 years on, my relationship with it remains intact. While my engagement with this album has ebbed and flowed over this time, it has always been a benchmark of sorts for me. The epitome of what noisy pop melodies could be.
Over the years, the mythology surrounding the making of Loveless has flourished, perhaps only rivaled by the reclusiveness and isolation of Justin Vernon during the making of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago in a Wisconsin cabin. It took Kevin Shields and the rest of the band at least two years to record the album. In that time the band occupied two dozen different studios and gave birth to many stories that seem almost ridiculous by most standards. In one story Shields spent an entire week trying to get just the right tambourine sound on one track. In another, a studio technician was sent out on a day long search for a very specific amplifier only to be told that Shields had forgotten about it by the time it was located. Shields also claimed that he refused to supply the record label with written lyrics for the largely indecipherable vocals. Instead, a record label employee had to transcribe (to the best of their ability) the lyrics for the copyright applications. The time and money spent making Loveless is often credited with bankrupting Creation Records, the label that put it out.
Loveless’ sonic textures take the listener on a ride. The production is dense but flowing at the same time. Shields eschewed both reverb and stereo separation in the production. This gives the record both its intensity and its density. The listener is awash in accidental harmonic qualities coming from the volume and noise. Most of the drums are programmed using samples of Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drum hits. This was necessary due an underlying injury he had during the recording. However, the result gives the production a hint of organic electronica.
While it is easy to only focus on the production and the “sound”, underneath it are great songs. While the best guess lyrics seem esoteric, the structure and melodies of the songs exude a power and pop sensibilities. The songs are mostly straightforward, taking to heart the notion that too many chords will ruin a pop song.
Loveless has evolved over the years in a sense. Shields has remastered the album a few times, almost treating the album like a continually evolving work – almost the way that Leonard Cohen continued to change the song “Hallelujah” throughout his life. Most recently, Shields did an all-analog remastering of Loveless. Due to the way the songs bleed into one another, they had to be digitally mastered originally. However, with time, money and experimentation, Shields was able to remaster the album completely on tape, having to splice the tape together creatively to achieve the same transitions between songs.
Loveless seemed like one of those albums that others should leave alone. However, over the years I have heard some (not many) good interpretations of the songs on this album. Most notably, in my opinion, is Blue Loveless – a tribute to this album by Korean underground bands. However, there is also Yellow Loveless and Purple Loveless – tributes by Japanese and Indonesian underground bands, respectively. Japancakes from Athens, Georgia recorded the album in its entirety with pedal steel guitar replacing the vocals and melodies throughout.
Which brings me to now. I always heard the potential for “When You Sleep” to be a lazy, stripped-down, folky ballad. So, I finally decided to throw my hat in the ring and try to pay homage to an album that has inspired much of my music over the years.