Please Explain to Me ... My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless'

In the wake of yesterday's supposedly mindblowing announcement of All Tomorrow's Parties New York (which is basically the indie-rock version of an overpriced baseball old-timers camp, only instead of Joe Pepitone and Bobby Richardson reliving past glories you've got Doug Martsch and John McEntire doing the same), I thought it would be a great time to debut a long-promised feature by the name of Please Explain to Me.

The idea: We ask you, loyal Post Rock readers/commenters/debaters, to explain the worthiness and appeal of something popular and/or revered.

To kick things off, I'm asking for assistance on figuring out what's so fantastically great about that most sacred cow of 1990s indie-ish rock: "Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine.

Is it a good album? Sure.

Is it the best album of the '90s? I'd have to say an emphatic no.

Is it the best shoegaze album? I'd have to say no again.

Is it even the best My Bloody Valentine album? Very debatable.

So just what is it about "Loveless" that makes people lose their heads?

Please explain to me ...

By David Malitz |  April 23, 2008; 4:15 PM ET Please Explain
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225,000 copies in the US in 16 years. Is it a lot of illegal downloading or the same three people on the internet chat boards proclaiming this to be the second coming? No wonder they broke up in the first place. I think what got me into Loveless when it came out was hearing that they sampled their own music and I couldn't understand the words. It's a great, great, mysterious album that I don't play very often anymore. Isn't Anything and the EPs are much more cohesive. I think it's interesting that people are creaming their jeans to see a band/Kevin Shields that is largely a creature of the recording studio. I saw them with Dinosaur Jr and Screaming Trees in 92 and there is no possible way that MBV can live up to the Pitchfork hype on the site today. This ATP event in the Catskills actually sounds fun - will Patrick Swayze compere? But the MBV show and tour will be a show that self-congratulatory hipsters will be watching through the lenses of their digital cameras and cell phone cameras, clawing and snarling at each other on the way out of the event to be the first to upload to YouTube. More of a concert to tell people you went to than to enjoy.

Posted by: Self Congratulatory Hipster | April 23, 2008 5:51 PM

"Loveless" is a very emotional record. I think all the layering of tracks and repetition give it a hypnotic effect that many albums of the genre possessed. But what sets it apart is that it's also earnest and unguarded, not necessarily in the overt songwriting but in holistic approach. There's nothing cynical or calculated about it. In that way it reminds me of early Smashing Pumpkins.

"Loveless" is a flight of fancy that is alternately happy or sad but never weighted down by reality.

Posted by: merle | April 23, 2008 6:24 PM

I've had the same question, since I sold the CD to a used shop. Likable enough, but what's the excitement?

Posted by: Dave | April 24, 2008 9:30 AM

It's a good album. And it's definitely the best MBV album. The songwriting is better than Isn't Anything or the early EPs. Loveless is a true album, from start to finish a coherent piece of art that Isn't Anything can't quite match.

It's also the best shoegazer album. I like Ride, but they revel too much in teenage angst, and they sound too pretty for their own good. MBV's music isn't as age-specific, and they can do ugly as well as pretty. (Also, Nowhere isn't even Ride's best album. Going Blank Again wins by TKO. Go back and listen to the two albums again - I think you'll agree that GBA has aged better.)

But overall, David's point is well-taken: MBV and Loveless are overrated by indie rock journalists. Loveless is definitely not the best album of the '90s. It's the album of reference for the scene of MBV fanatics and shoegazer aficionados. But that scene is just one of many in the grand scheme of '90s rock and roll.

You could argue that Loveless is a very influential album for musicians of the past 10 to 15 years. It might be the "Velvet Underground & Nico" of its time. I don't know one way or the other - just food for thought.

Posted by: SSMD | April 24, 2008 9:41 AM

I like Merle's response, thank you. That actually does explain a lot to me. As with all things music it comes down to how it affects you personally, and "earnest" and "unguarded" are probably the last words I would use to describe myself while "cynical" and "calculated" would be much, much higher up that list.

The disappearance factor also looms large in the "Loveless" lore, of course. It's not a coincidence that it and "In the Aeroplane" are two of the most revered albums from last decade, right?

Posted by: David | April 24, 2008 10:15 AM

Pitchfork didn't give Loveless the crown for "best album of the '90s" either. If you look at the chart, you'll notice that OK Computer took that title.

Or did you mean to ask if it was the 2nd best album of the '90s?

I think Ned Raggett encapsulates the appeal of the album quite nicely.

Posted by: baconfat | April 24, 2008 10:18 AM

I mixed up my Pitchfork Best of the 90s list, sorry about that, baconfat. On their original list, which I can't find on the site anymore (presumably because it's gone due to the fact that they didn't want to be on record saying 12 Rods made one of the decade's hundred best albums) "Loveless" was definitely #1.

Posted by: David | April 24, 2008 10:47 AM

Here's the list you were referring to, from 1999. And yeah, it's no wonder Pfork took it off the site.

Posted by: baconfat | April 24, 2008 1:24 PM

I think 'Soon' embodies what's great about the album and the band. There are layers of guitars, but it's quite catchy, it's just a little bit funky as well.

There are bands that have come along that are louder (Place to Bury Strangers, obviously) and band whose sound is wholly based on endless layers of thick guitars (Windy and Carl), but no one has touched on the mix of melody and sound that well. In a very different way, it's why I admire a band like Stereolab so much. They've been out there experimenting all along, but they always have great melodies.

I've tried to "get" Nowhere many times, but it still doesn't do much for me. It's in that mental pile with Bandwagonesque and Funeral. None are bad, but none of them really hits me. Oh right, Isn't Anything also, which is far weaker to my ears.

Posted by: MN | April 24, 2008 3:06 PM

Thanks for posting that original P-Fork 'Best of the 90s' list, pretty amazing stuff. Not only does Tori Amos place higher than Neutral Milk Hotel, she does so by about 80 spots. Wow.

While I hate to say it's the beneficiary of Hipster Group-Think, I also don't get 'Loveless.' I appreciate the innovation in the guitar sound, but everything's mixed so low, I can barely hear what's going on, even with headphones. If anything, it makes me better appreciate the artists that pretty blatantly appropriated the sound (see: 'Siamese Dream').

Posted by: mikef | April 24, 2008 3:07 PM

Loveless, the greatest 90s album? Hmmm, that is pretty far fetched and only a die hard fan of MBV would make that kind of statement. 95% of the public does not know this band so how can it be the best 90s album? It just goes to show how insignificant lists are these days.

I am however a great fan of MBV. I distinctly remember when i picked up this CD when I was a KUCI DJ.....back then any DJ was able to comment on the CD jewel box and everyone, I mean everyone was raving about this....comments like "this song is God", etc. So I went to the local Wherehouse at UCI Plaza and bought it. To my embarrassment, I thought the CD was defective! Somehow I thought the album was recorded in reverse. That was how new the shoegaze sound was to me, at least MBVs version of it. I bought another one and once again, that really weird guitar sound. It was only days, maybe weeks later that I finally "got" it.

It certainly is not an album for the mainstream but once discovered it is truly an aural sensation. Everyone should try it.

Posted by: John Kim | April 24, 2008 3:57 PM

It's a crazy sounding record with some great riffs. I mean, really: What other album sounded like that? I'm a bigger Swervedrive and Ride fan, but they're comparatively staid sounding (Hendrix and Crosby-era Byrds, respectively and approximately).

I was working at the Wiz when Loveless came out. I put it on and it was literally disorienting, and I had people coming up to me, distressed, asking if I could take the music off. I ... demurred. Finally The manager came racing out from the back of the store and made me turn it off. I didn't blame him.

Posted by: Jet Age Eric | April 24, 2008 4:05 PM

OK, maybe not the best album of the 90's, but definitely one of the most influential, and years ahead of its time. I like "Isn't Anything" okay, I like other Shoegazer bands just fine but "Loveless" achieves a whole 'nother level of otherworldliness.

Posted by: Jay-El | April 25, 2008 1:18 PM

I dig "Loveless" and MBV immensely, and there's a lot of interesting stuff you can peel away from that album (interesting melodies, sounds, arrangements, etc). I think the creativity of that album still holds up, even over a album like "Nowhere." "Loveless" just has that je ne sais quoi. I don't think it's stretch to say that it's an elite '90s album, but I wouldn't be so quick to give it the crown.

And I'm not slagging "Nowhere" either...great album.

Posted by: Brian | April 29, 2008 4:16 PM

out of the 1500+ cds in my collection, loveless is one that i love least. bought it, listened to it a couple times, found it terminally dull, was happy to get a few bucks for it when i sold it again. how it even makes it onto a "best of" list totally baffles me. it certainly didn't inspire me to try other mbv albums to compare it with, so i can't say which is best.

Posted by: ricardo | May 5, 2008 2:37 PM

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