So now we know what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost In Translation: “Don’t worry – My Bloody Valentine only have another decade to go.” After a couple of weeks and a hundred listens, it’s pretty obvious that the new My Bloody Valentine album is even greater than we all spent years hoping. The world has waited almost 22 years, but suddenly the weirdness that MBV finally exists has been replaced by the weirdness of the album itself. The tortured backstory already seems like a footnote. Now we all have bigger questions to face, like whether “Only Tomorrow” or “New You” is the most insanely beautiful song in the universe. After 12 days of full immersion, the music sounds more mysterious, not less.
As soon as it dropped on February 2nd, just in time to make this the bloodiest Valentine’s Day ever, it was easy to tell MBV was amazing. Me, I burned a disc and taped it onto both sides of a cassette so I could let it loop all day. Sometimes I play the CD, the laptop, or whatever noise-making device is at hand. But I’m not even close to using it up, because MBV is even more amazing than it originally seemed, and the hundredth listen beats the first. I don’t plan to get sick of these songs until mid-October. (Except “Nothing Is,” which I’ve pencilled in for April.)
It’s hard to place this music in history. Had MBV released the exact same album in 1993, “Nothing Is” would have seemed like their attempt to jack Nine Inch Nails, while “New You” would have seemed like their attempt to replace 10,000 Maniacs’ “Candy Everybody Wants” in Chelsea Clinton’s Walkman. It’s impossible to even guess how far back the material dates. (No way could “Wonder 2” have been recorded any later than the spring of 1999 – even Bowie was through with drum-and-bass by then.) Yet that’s part of the mystery.
Kevin Shields’ guitar sounds sexual – in a way, his guitar is like the late Luther Vandross’ voice. Both artists have an erotic signature sound that’s so massive, it’s a pure abstraction. Shields’ guitar and Vandross’ voice radiate the helplessness of love, as if they’re letting themselves get totally swallowed up, as if surrendering to the hugeness of the sound is the same thing as surrendering to love. I’ve always liked the title of my favorite Luther record: The Best of Luther Vandross . . . The Best of Love. Obviously there’s an arrogance in trying to sing in the voice of love itself, but both guys sound ego-free because their identity gets dissolved in the romance of this sound, a romance they share with their audience. (That’s why not even hardcore fans seem to care about these guys’ individual personalities, or their private lives.)
The album divides into three segments: the “sounds like Loveless” ones, the “sounds like Stereolab” ones, and the ones Kevin Shields was probably saving for the soundtrack of Lost In Translation 2: Havana Nights. “In Another Way” echoes the Gary Numan revival of the late 2000s, but given the way Shields works, it might be a leftover from the Gary Numan revival of the mid-1990s. “New You” leaves third-degree Blow Monkeys burns all over my brain. Yet despite the labor pains, none of MBV sounds strained or overworked. It forces you to give up any hope of consuming it in a hurry.
That’s how Loveless flowed, too. It was a word-of-mouth sensation, in a more enigma-friendly era. After years of listening obsessively to Loveless, I still don’t know any of the lyrics or song titles. (My favorite is called something like “When You Awake” or “What You Need” – I’d have to look it up.) It’s harder to get away with that kind of mystique these days.
It wasn’t until around 1995 or so that the failure of this album to arrive became a worldwide joke. But most fans probably figured it could never live up to our hopes. That’s how it goes with long-awaited follow-ups – most of the time, you get a Chinese Democracy. Other times you get the artist testing the waters, like Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, which came out 17 years after Gravity’s Rainbow and basically functioned as a “watch this space” flier for Mason & Dixon and Against the Day.
But sometimes you get the real thing, as with James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Like Chinese Democracy and Vineland, Finnegans Wake took 17 years, as everybody wondered how Joyce could follow a masterpiece like Ulysses. The Wake inspired a book of critical essays before it even came out, based on the “Work in Progress” fragments he published in lit mags. But when the Wake arrived, the long wait was forgotten, because it turned out to be another masterpiece that gave everyone more interesting problems. And now MBV is the new My Bloody Valentine masterpiece, ever since it arrived on February 2nd, which happens to be the same date Joyce published Ulysses in 1922, on his birthday. He was hoping to release Finnegans Wake on February 2nd as well, but it took him a few more months. (Joyce and Shields are Irish guys. Ever wait for an Irish guy to show up on time? Don’t.)
Sometimes you spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come, but then it comes, and then it isn’t a moment anymore. It’s part of your life, part of the world. There’s something bittersweet about losing that moment. But only a moron chooses a moment over a life, just as only a moron would rather wait for the My Bloody Valentine album than listen to it. MBV isn’t a work in progress now – it’s just a work. And the most insanely beautiful song in the universe? Definitely “New You.” Or “Only Tomorrow.” No, “New You.” This might take some time.