My Bloody Valentine: Rewriters of Pop Music
By Shailendra Ahangama
What is pop music? It’s often a term most of us use to designate whatever artist or genre that is popular in terms of commercialism. Popular artists have altered throughout the decades but the basic blueprint of pop music has deviated little. The usage of repeated choruses and hooks are often predominant in the genre and every artist, from Van Morrison to Blink -182 have used it.
As repeated a format it is, the simplistic brilliance of a well written pop song is something very few artists have achieved. In the words of Alice Cooper and his love of The Beatles, “I’ve always said this, and people might disagree with me, but it’s easier to write something like Bohemian Rhapsody than it is to write something like I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Yet ideas develop and people change, and just like this, so did artists in their approach to pop music. One such band was Ireland’s My Bloody Valentine.
The band was formed in 1983 by guitarist Kevin Shields and drummer Colm O Ciosig, vocalist and guitarist Bilinda Butcher and bassist Debbie George were recruited later. Shields was the primary force in the band, since his modifications with effects and sound on the guitar have made him a primary influence on many guitarists of the coming years. My Bloody Valentine’s influences were quite varied, from the classic pop rock of The Beach Boys, The Troggs, and The Byrds to the punk rock of The Sex Pistols and The Ramones with the post-punk of The Smiths, Public Image Ltd. and The Cure.
Shields’ two favourite bands are The Beatles and The Ramones, citing the latter as an influence since he realised the band’s lead guitarist Johnny Ramone as an influence because he realised, “He wasn’t playing guitar—he was generating the sound ... it was just a noise generator.” This combination of white noise and pure pop melodies was where Shields was a unique guitarist. While the Irish guitarist did not exactly display technical proficiency on the fretboard, he had an ability to weave intriguing textures and soundscapes on the guitar, ones that balanced the lines of pop, psychedelia and noise, masterfully crafting melodies that were cataclysmic and pristine simultaneously.
The band’s debut Isn’t Anything was released in 1988, and while it does establish the band’s talent and ability, it doesn’t establish their individuality, bearing too close to their influences like Siouxsie, The Banshees, and The Cure. Truly, the band really found their sound on 1991’s Loveless. Loveless was released in a year of brilliant rock albums; Nirvana’s Nevermind Metallica’s self-titled fifth album, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger being a few of the big names.
Loveless lay comfortably in the middle ground of the rivalry between the grunge movement in America and the Britpop movement in England; it was heavy enough for grunge fans, and melodic and ethereal enough for fans of Oasis and Blur. Fitting enough that the album should blur such lines, since the cover and the music itself are quite blurry and undefined by nature. I personally recall putting Loveless on for the first time. It was bizarre and intriguing and certainly an experience of its own. The opening track Only Shallow is My Bloody Valentine at their best; a blast of interstellar noise sampled over a sugary pop melody like a cottoncandy hurricane. Brilliant.
The same technique is used in the album’s seventh track Come In Alone, a marriage of discordant, odd noise meeting ethereal tones like oozing honey. The band also take their unique spin on pop music to another level by making the vocals inaudible; it’s not so much an obstacle to the music as it is a complement; wave after wave of ethereal riffs drowning the seraphic voices of Shields and Butcher.
The effect is dream-like and phantasmagoric. The band were also big hip-hop fans and sampling is heavily used here, such as a dance beat being sampled in I Only Said, as well as an attempt on a ballad in Sometimes. Overall, Loveless was as crucial a ‘90s alt rock album as Nirvana’s Nevermind, since both brought forward new and intriguing styles into pop music and just music in general.
My Bloody Valentine and Loveless in general were responsible for spawning several variations of pop music: noise pop, electronic music, dream pop, and shoegazing. The term shoegazing was used on the band and several bands that tried to imitate their style afterwards because Shields had to constantly look down at his effects pedals to implement the right effects into the guitar in live performances. My Bloody Valentine has influenced a myriad of bands in different genres of music, some being listed below;
These Scottish post-rock giants draw from My Bloody Valentine’s ethereal noise as they do cinema soundtracks. The result is dramatic, eerie and engaging.
Hailing from Sacramento, California, this band is a cocktail of different styles; everything from prog rock to hardcore punk to groove metal to electronic music has been explored in their discography. My Bloody Valentine serves as inspiration to the band’s more ethereal and romantic moments.
The Smashing Pumpkins
Frontman and guitarist Billy Corgan has expressed nothing but admiration for the Irish band and has even admitted to stealing some riffs and drum fills for his band’s debut album. But it isn’t just these new artists that My Bloody Valentine helped influence; plenty of esteemed bands and artists admired the band’s take on pop music. Fellow Irishmen U2 loved the band and their bold style, while legendary producer and ambient music innovator Brian Eno is a fan of the band and their sound and has even collaborated with Shields to create music.
But Shield’s talent has clearly reached and been recognised by ears beyond the music industry, for Sofia Coppola, daughter of the iconic director Francis Ford Coppola, not only used the band’s song Sometimes in her movie Lost In Translation but hired him to compose original scores for the movie as well. My Bloody Valentine were innovators in an era where music was in the threat of rehashing the same styles that were predominant over 20 to 30 years ago, breaking ground with a loud, but captivating style that still continues to intrigue many today. A truly unique and brilliant band who have carved their own sonic identity, My Bloody Valentine were a crucial ‘90s band that should be explored by any music enthusiast.