What were you even doing in 1991? It really does seem like a lifetime ago. (Literally so for some of you.) Did the internet even exist? I might have somewhere, but it didn't at our house. There was the radio, there were music magazines, there were nice, and knowledgeable, people working in any number of record stores. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was "Loveless". (I'm not sure how this happened, but I made do with a taped copy of "Loveless" until around 2000, when I finally bought it on CD at the second-hand stall at Fyshwick Market. For a dollar. That is not a misprint.)
"Loveless". A goddamn mystery of an enigma of an album. All you wanted to do was turn it up, but the more you turned it up the worse it sounded. (This has been somewhat rectified by the reissue, but the underlying architecture of the thing remains as ungraspable as ever.) What "Loveless" did was open a door into an entirely new way to make "rock" music, a door which nobody since has been game enough to go through, or, if they did, they haven't known which direction then to go in and quickly crept back out again. (Exception: "Dreams Top Rock", by Pluramon.)
It is a door to which, seemingly, Kevin Shields possesses the only key.
Fast-(well, not that fast)-forward to early 2013. Most of us thought it would never happen or that, if it did, the 22 years gestation would result in some over-cooked stew that could only taint the reputation of its forebear.
I really shouldn't do this, given my almost perfect track record of fatally misreading albums on first listen (Exhibit One: writing off "Remain In Light", first time through, as a disco record). But recording one's first impressions of "m b v" seems to be today's little parlour game, so here are mine. The listening conditions: once through. On computer speakers. While somewhat distracted by other things. (Promising, yeah?)
The bulk of this record sounds much as you would have expected a follow-up to "Loveless" to sound. The songs are new, but the template is instantly recognisable. New corners of the MBV sound-room do seem to have been illuminated, but for the most part the album doesn't seem to have unlocked yet further doors. Not that it needed to. But this does induce thoughts along the lines of "What took you so long?" On the other hand, there is a song that sounds like nothing so much as Stereolab heard through 200 layers of gauze. And then there are the last two songs on the album, which are perhaps the point of the thing: two songs that sound like nothing, or at least no music, you have ever heard before. I don't know what they mean, and I'm not even sure how to listen to them. They might even represent the End of Music. One can hope they represent, for Shields, a way forward.
And that, really, is all I've got to say about it. For now.