My Bloody Valentine are an Irish-British Alternative Rock band that pioneered a genre known as shoegazing and carried it to its apex so thoroughly that it died soon after they dissolved. They are the quintessential band of the genre, famous for their ability to make mountains of raging distorted guitars sound beautiful.
Its most famous lineup is:
- Kevin Shields: vocals, guitar; main songwriter/mastermind (top-right in the picture)
- Bilinda Butcher: vocals, guitar; the other important member (top-left)
- Debbie Googe: bass; often forgotten (bottom-right)
- Colm Ó Cíosóig: drums; he of the unpronounceable name (bottom-left)
The band was formed in 1983 by Shields and Colm. The former played guitar, the latter handled drumming, and Dave Conway was brought in for vocals, with his girlfriend Tina Durkin playing keyboards. They spent three months in the Netherlands and then Berlin, where they recorded a mini-LP This Is Your Bloody Valentine, which was mostly bland synth-heavy Post-Punk that did not hint at their later direction.
After losing contact for a while and sorting out a housing issue, the band regrouped and settled in London. Durkin had left in the chaos, and Debbie Googe was brought aboard as bassist. They released an EP on Fever Records, Geek!, in December 1985, but this did not bring the anticipated reaction. However, they persisted and signed to Kaleidoscope Records. Here, they released two more EPs, The New Record by My Bloody Valentine (1986) and Sunny Sundae Smile (1987). They soon built up a small following through regular live gigs, but Conway left the band in 1987 from dissatisfaction. After a tortuous audition processnote , the band hired Bilinda Butcher as a vocalist and secondary guitarist, who appeared on two new EPs, Strawberry Wine and Ecstasy (1987). The band finally settled down after years of false starts and EPs with a stable lineup and a new home at Creation Records.
MBV finally found their new sound with the EP You Made Me Realise, released in August 1988, followed in November the same year with the EP Feed Me With Your Kiss and their first full-length, Isn't Anything. Their style, combining multi-layered and aggressive guitars with breathy, muffled singing was termed "shoegazing" (thanks to their onstage demeanor, in which they were motionless and often looked down at their effects pedals) by the press and promptly imitated by many.
The band began recording a follow-up album in 1989 and initially said it would be done "in five days". However, the process stretched out over two years and grew to involve almost nineteen studios (two used for taping vocals, one for mixing/mastering), sixteen credited engineers (most of whom ended up bringing Shields tea and coffee; only Anjali Dutt and Alan Moulder actually engineered anything), Shields' obsessive studio perfectionism, bizarre behaviour (he didn't allow engineers to listen to him and Butcher while they were recording vocals) and a rumoured enormous studio bill. In the meanwhile, the EPs Glider (May 1990) and Tremolo (February 1991) were released to keep an active profile.
My Bloody Valentine's second album, Loveless, was released on 4 November 1991, to universal acclaim and modest commercial success (reaching #24 on the UK charts, with the single "Only Shallow" becoming a moderate hit single on American alternative radio). It took their painstakingly overdubbed aggressive-yet-dreamy guitar playing, ethereal vocals and obsessive studio perfectionism to a whole new level. For a long time, Creation head Alan McGee claimed the album cost £250,000 to record and nearly bankrupted his label, but Shields has always denied both charges, claiming that it's an exaggeration and most of the money spent on the album was "money to live on"note , with only a few thousand going into recording itself.
MBV embarked on a short tour of England and the USA (co-headlining with Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo) as a result of Creation's financial dire straits, and were dropped from the label soon after. They signed with Island Records in October 1992, and began building their own studio, which was completed by April 1993. After churning out a cover versions of Louis Armstrong's"We Have All The Time In The World" for a charity album and Wire's "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W" for a tribute album, Shields' severe writer's block, extreme perfectionism (reportedly nearly 60 hours of material were recorded and discarded) and tension between the members caused the band to slide into a decade of inactivity and disintegratenote . This hiatus only served to amplify their legendary status in the alternative rock scene.
The band eventually reunited in November 2007 and played their first gigs in 13 years in June 2008. They also headlined several 2008 festivals, including: Roskilde, Benicássim, Bestival, and All Tomorrow's Parties. They announced on their Facebook page that remastered versions of Isn't Anything, Loveless and a compilation of the contemporary EPs were scheduled to be released on 7 May 2012. And it actually happened. People were pleasantly surprised.
On 7 November 2012, it was announced via Kevin's website that an album of new material might see the light of day by the end of 2012, with a further announcement a month later stating that the album was past the mastering stage. On 2 February 2013, the band finally released the album, titled mbv, on their website. To say their fanbase hyperventilated with excitement doesn't even begin to describe it; the server for their website promptly crashed upon announcement.
The band's plans from that point onward have been murky. In late 2017, Shields began claiming that they would "100 percent" release their fourth album in 2018, although that ultimately failed to come to fruition. He then claimed that the band would release 2 new EPs in 2019, which also didn't happen. In March 2021, it was announced that the band had signed with Domino Recording Company, and with that, their entire discography was made available on worldwide streaming services for the first time. Further plans were put forward to re-release the band's music on CD and vinyl; while promoting these re-releases, Shields reiterated that they're working on new material, this time in the form of a more melodic album and a more experimental album.
Please don't confuse them with My Chemical Romance; it's been a problem. Don't confuse them with the movie from which they took their name (or maybe didn't; different sources have specified differently), either; it doesn't have nearly as many instances of people staring at their shoes. You also shouldn't confuse them for Bullet for My Valentine, which is a completely different band entirely. Last but not least, they shouldn't be confused with My Vitriol, which probably happens more often than the other three, as MV are the band that started the second wave of shoegazing.
- Early stuff. Disowned by the band (who pretend it never happened) and the fanbase (following the band's example).
- This Is Your Bloody Valentine EP (January 1985)
- Geek! EP (December 1985)
- The New Record by My Bloody Valentine EP (1986)
- Sunny Sundae Smile EP (1986)
- Works whose status fall somewhere between the above and the below.
- Strawberry Wine EP (August 1987)
- Ecstasy EP (November 1987)
- Ecstasy and Wine (1989) [a compilation of the Strawberry Wine and Ecstasy EPs, making them the earliest MBV output to remain in print]
- The more well-known part of their discography.
- You Made Me Realise EP (8 August 1988)
- Feed Me With Your Kiss EP (November 1988)
- Isn't Anything (November 1988) [remastered and re-released on 7 May 2012]
- Glider EP (April 1990)
- Tremolo EP (February 1991)
- Loveless (4 November 1991) [remastered and re-released on 7 May 2012]
- EP's 1988-1991 (4 May 2012) [released alongside the Isn't Anything and Loveless remasters, compiles You Made Me Realise, Feed Me With Your Kiss, Glider, Tremolo, the "Instrumental #1" and "Instrumental #2" bonus songs from the 7'' bundled with Isn't Anything, the full version of "Glider" from the "Soon" 12'' single, "Sugar" from the French single release of "Only Shallow", and three previously unreleased songs]
- mbv (2 February 2013)
This band provides examples of:
- all lowercase letters: The band stylizes their name this way, as well as the song titles on Loveless and MBV.
- Broken Record: "Nothing Is" is made entirely of this.
- Brown Note: The Intended Audience Reaction of the "holocaust section" of "You Made Me Realise" when performed live. It has been successful: the song has been known to induce hallucinations in audience members.
- Canon Discontinuity + Old Shame: The band and their fanbase pretend the band did not exist before 1988. The band themselves have made sure that earliest release still in print is Ecstasy and Wine, a combination of the Strawberry Wine and Ecstasy EPs. Good luck finding anything earlier than that, you'll need it.
- Continuity Nod: The cover◊ of mbv looks like a nod to the cover◊ of Loveless.
- Cover Version: Covered "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W" by Wire and "We Have All the Time in the World" by Louis Armstrong (originally the theme for On Her Majesty's Secret Service). On the other side, some brave souls occasionally take a hack at a My Bloody Valentine song - "You Made Me Realise" was covered by Silver Sun, Midway Still and Amusement Parks on Fire, with none coming nowhere near the level of the original.
- Deliberately Monochrome: They have normal pictures, yes, but the more famous/commonly used ones tend to be black and white (see below under Small Reference Pools).
- Determinator: Kevin. Not only was there the Troubled Production of Loveless, but he still plays extremely loud concerts to this day even after developing both tinnitus and tendonitis in his left hand.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: They were originally a post-punk/goth band before 1988.
- The songs on Ecstasy and Wine are mostly twee.
- "Clair" shows signs of what was to come, however.
- The songs on Ecstasy and Wine are mostly twee.
- Epic Rocking: "You Made Me Realise" has been known to go on for upwards of 30 minutes. The 'holocaust' section can have 20+ minutes of pure noise and cacophony, played at 110 dB. Epic indeed.
- Their studio discography has a few less extreme examples, namely "Soon" (7:01), the extended version of "Glider" (10:16), "Only Tomorrow" (6:21), and "Who Sees You" (6:11). The EP version of "To Here Knows When" just barely misses qualifying at 5:49, though Kevin Shields considers the instrumental interlude at the end of the track to be a separate song. Then again, due to the extensive use of Fading into the Next Song on Loveless and Tremolo, song divisions during that era almost feel like afterthoughts; both releases could be thought of as long compositions that were divided into tracks mostly just to make CD navigation easier.
- "You Made Me Realise" isn't the only song prone to expansion live; a commonly bootlegged 1992 performance in Vancouver, British Columbia, has a version of "Soon" that goes on for almost nine minutes and a version of "To Here Knows When" that goes on for more than seven, and that's not all.
- Fading into the Next Song: Most songs on Loveless and Tremolo do this.
- Garfunkel: For the duration of Loveless' recording, Colm and Debbie. Kevin even said that "I'm basically the only musician on the album except for 'Touched' [Colm's song]".
- For MBV, Colm played drums (though early tracking sessions had Kevin's brother Jimi playing drums instead), but basically all the rest of the instruments were played by Kevin. Vocals were shared by Kevin and Bilinda, as usual.
- Girl with Psycho Weapon: The "You Made Me Realise" EP cover, a dreamy black-and-white image of a girl surrounded by flowers and holding a knife to her own throat.
- Heads or Tails?: Kevin at one point mentioned that after the aforementioned terrible audition process, they'd succeeded in whittling down the potential band members to Bilinda Butcher and "a girl named Julie", who was Douglas Hart's girlfriend, and Bilinda was supposedly chosen based on a coin toss.
- I Am the Band: Happened on Loveless; Kevin admitted "I'm actually the only musician on the record except for the Colm song"note in Mike McGonigal's book about its recording. He took over Bilinda's guitar duties (which she didn't mind since she didn't have a high opinion of her guitar skills) and played bass in Debbie's place (due to it being quicker than him trying to explain his vision to her). Colm suffered from physical and personal problems during the recording, having become homeless at one point, so for most of the album the drums are actually looped samples of whatever Colm was able to perform; he only played live on the opener "Only Shallow" and his contribution "Touched".
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Kevin and Bilinda don't enunciate that much to begin with, and the vocals are generally fairly low in the mix because they feel the vocals should be just another instrument. Added to the fact that the band never releases official lyrics, this means that interpretations of the lyrics often vary widely (and often results in Something Something Leonard Bernstein - see below).
- Intercourse with You:
- "Swallow". All the distinguishable lyrics are the refrain, which goes something like Swallow, swallow, love, I close my mouth. Their stuff in general tends to be more about Silly Love Songs than, y'know, getting physical.
- "To Here Knows When" is hardly subtle with (barely intelligible) lyrics such as Move on top, because that way you touch her, too. The song itself sounds like druggy sex.
- All of which is still lyrically subtler than "Slow".
- "Soft as Snow (but Warm Inside)" is possibly even less subtle.
- Then there's Feed Me Your Kiss, and the Glider cover...
- Their songs tend to be very sensual, walking the line between Intercourse with You and Silly Love Songs. Some of their stuff on Loveless and mbv can be particularly seductive.
- Intentionally Awkward Title: They either named themselves after an obscure 1981 Canadian slasher film (that was remade in 2009 in 3D), or didn't (other sources say that they just chose the name because they liked the sound out of it, and didn't know about the film until after they had named themselves).
- Lipstick Lesbian: Debbie, who also occasionally indulges in Les Yay with Bilinda at concerts.
- Long-Runner Line-up: The band has had the same lineup since 1987. Perhaps not coincidentally, all works made before that point fall under Canon Discontinuity.
- Loudness War: Gloriously averted. Loveless is mastered at 1991 loudness (or slightly below it) but has an excellent mastering and thus doesn't clip or cause any trouble. The mastering is so good that it can sound radically different depending on which stereo (speakers, headphones etc.) you play it on.
- A 2-CD reissue (two different remasters) of Loveless was released on May 7, 2012, and lo, although the two remasters are both louder than the original, it's not at the cost of dynamics. The first disc is a new master sourced from the digital tape that served as the source of the original CD issue and the second is sourced from the original 1/2 inch analogue tapes. Time and a good pair of headphones will be needed to discern the differences between the two (other than the fact that the digital remaster is slightly louder), but Kevin did an excellent job of describing the separate processes in an interview with Pitchfork. (He also denounces the loudness war in the same interview, meaning that none of this should be terribly surprising).
- They're still mastering their new material with dynamics, too. MBV has a rating of DR11, which is practically unheard of in 2013. Of course, since it was an all-analogue recording process (nearly all dynamic range compression done to recordings is applied digitally), this may not be surprising.
- The band live, however, is definitely this trope. They've been threatened with legal action for potentially damaging their audience's hearing.
- Lyrical Dissonance: So many examples, but just for one, "Once in love/I'll be the death of you" sneaks into the otherwise ethereal "Blown a Wish". To be fair, this is an album of unintelligibles we're talking about, so you really need to know what you're listening for or you need to have listened to it many times to catch it.
- Bilinda says that the extreme unfun of recording Loveless and her personal issues influenced the lyrics for the album, and that she has trouble listening to it due to how it reflects their mental state at the time.
- Mind Screw: Good luck trying to figure out what their songs are about. Crosses with True Art Is Incomprehensible.
- Miniscule Rocking: "Touched" (0:57), plus the instrumental interludes on Tremolo (they're indexed together with their preceding tracks, but Kevin Shields considers them separate songs; they range in length from 1:07 to 1:25).
- Multiple-Choice Past: Accounts vary on whether the band shares its name with a slasher film deliberately or purely by coincidence.
- Mythology Gag: At least one of their publicity photos nods to their name being swiped from a Canadian slasher movie. (That photo in particular doubles as Multiple Reference Pun since it has Bilinda holding up a butcher's axe. Unfortunately, it doesn't have Kevin defending himself with shields.)
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The aptly named "holocaust section" of "You Made Me Realise".
- No Title: Kevin Shields considers the instrumental interludes on Tremolo to be separate songs (meaning that he considers the EP to have seven songs rather than four), but they've never been given official titles note . There are also a few brief instrumental interludes on Loveless that could arguably be considered separate songs (specifically, after "Only Shallow", "To Here Knows When", and "What You Want"), though they're slightly shorter than the Tremolo examples.
- Older Than They Look: The band members have a remarkable ability to keep looking a decade or so behind their actual ages. Bilinda in particular looks like she hasn't aged a day since 1991.
- Overshadowed by Awesome: Debbie. As far as the general recollection goes she didn't play on Loveless despite being credited (Kevin also took over Bilinda's guitar parts, but she didn't mind because she didn't think she was very good and wanted recording to go faster). Also, not the lead vocalist. Colm too, who's also saddled with an unpronounceable name and didn't contribute that much to Loveless either because of personal and physical issues.
- Performance Video: "Only Shallow", parts of "Soon".
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Not helped by their refusal to print lyrics, as they consider vocals to be an instrument.
- Pun-Based Title: Well, the movie they named themselves after (if, in fact, they named themselves after it) is this... (it's a pun on the Rodgers and Hart song "My Funny Valentine", probably best known to modern audiences from Frank Sinatra's version).
- Used on Loveless for beats due to Colm's personal and physical issues (along with his homelessness) interfering with recording. Shields himself admitted that only two of the songs have live drums ("Only Shallow" and "Touched") while for the rest they sampled whatever Colm played and looped it. He mentioned that he believes the listener probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference, except for the more obviously dancier work like "Soon". He added that sampling was also heavily employed to manipulate guitar feedback and vocals into sounding like different instruments.
- The non-LP track "Instrumental #2" samples the Public Enemy track "Security for the First World", the same track Lenny Kravitz sampled for Madonna's "Justify My Love".
- The Sandman: "The Sandman Never Sleeps" is a song from the EP "Geek!" made in 1985 and talks about this character in the lyrics as the name says.
- Schedule Slip: The band is infamous for this trope, to the point where they're still blowing release dates well into The New '10s.
- Sensory Abuse: The "holocaust section" in live performances of "You Made Me Realise", described directly below under Serial Escalation.
- Serial Escalation:
- The infamous "holocaust section" from "You Made Me Realise", one minutes of noise and cacophony sandwiched in the middle between the Epic Riff and catchy chorus. The band always plays the song last in concert, and drags the holocaust section to up to 20 minutes of pure cacophony and noise before ending, fully justifying its title.
- There's also Loveless's recording process. Ungodly amounts of money, 19 studios, 16 engineers, bizarre behaviour, by the end they needed a week to master it instead of the customary day, and the cherry on the cake - during mastering, the computer they used threw the entire album out of order and Kevin had to put the tracks back together from memory.
- Serious Business: NME's famously hyperbolic review, whose conclusion was quoted above.
- Shoegazing: The shoegazing band.
- Silly Love Songs: Just delivered at an ear-shattering volume with heavy doses of droney psychedelia. It's fun to think of MBV as The Smiths if the latter were tortured in Hell.
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: My Bloody Valentine's lyrics basically embody this trope. Notably, Midway Still attempted to cover "You Made Me Realise", but admitted to Melody Maker that they couldn't understand the lyrics and they made some of them up instead. Understandable, since that song basically boils down to Epic Riff, "something something you may as well commit suicide", the refrain of "something something insane eyes, you made me realise" and the holocaust section.
- Soprano and Gravel: Averted vocally, as Butcher and Shields have similar voices. Instrumentally, however, the interplay between the breathy vocals and fuzzed-out guitars arguably creates this effect, particularly on a song like "Sometimes".
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: Their cover of "We Have All the Time in the World". Kevin plays rhythm guitar with clean, delayed tone more reminiscent of U2 instead of his signature style, Colm's drums have a thinner, less aggressive sound, and the arrangement is mainly dominated by keyboards imitating strings and other orchestral instruments. Because it lacks their usual overwhelming fuzz, it's probably the song where it's easiest to appreciate the vocals.
- Surreal Music Video: the 1990-1991 videos directed by Angus Cameron are low-budget but very psychedelic. "Only Shallow" is a Performance Video run through heavy hallucinogenic processing. "To Here Knows When", "Soon" and "Swallow" take the blurry effect and run with it.
- Triumphant Reprise: The last verse of "You Made Me Realise" becomes this in live performances (assuming you can still hear anything after 20 minutes of sheer noise).
- Uncommon Time: Frequently. A few examples:
- The most conspicuous example is "Feed Me with Your Kiss", whose main riff constantly changes time signature. The general pattern is a bar of 5/4, followed by a bar of 3/4, followed by a measure of length that varies (the usual pattern is 4/4, then 5/4, then 6/4, then 8/4, but other patterns are used, such as 4/4 then 8/4, or, at the end of the song, one each of each meter signature from 4/4 up to 10/4).
- The opening riff of "Nothing Much to Lose", reprised at several other points in the song, is in 5/4. Oddly, it's changed to 6/4 in some live performances. (It's also performed in a jerky, disorienting fashion - these time signatures are arguably only approximations of its rhythm.)
- "Drive It All over Me" throws an extra beat (or, depending upon how one counts it, half-beat) into the last measure of each chorus, which creates a rather jolting effect.
- "You Made Me Realise" is a Double Subversion. The main riff might sound like it's in 7/4 at first, but it's actually just really syncopated 4/4. However, the chorus ends up being an example, as it has three bars of 4/4 and one of 6/4. (The verses are 6/4 all the way through.)
- "When You Wake You're Still in a Dream" is mostly in 7/4, with instrumental breaks mostly in 6/4 (they end in an extra measure of 2/4 and sometimes start with an extra measure of 4/4).
- "Wonder 2" shifts meter signatures subtly throughout, but good luck figuring out how. You won't actually notice unless you're paying close attention. There's definitely something that adds up to 17/4 a few minutes in.
- The Unpronounceable: Non-Irish people will inevitably butcher Colm Ó Cíosóig's last name or just stick with "Colm". It produces an amusing effect on one bootleg from a 2008 London show, when the crowd can be heard yelling "DRUMMER!" instead of "Colm".
- If you're interested, it's roughly Kolm Oh Kweesoigue.
- Video Full of Film Clips: "You Made Me Realise" alternates low-quality footage of the band performing with bits of other films, including' the "Ludovico treatment" scene from A Clockwork Orange.
- Wham Line: In "You Made Me Realise": You might as well commit suicide.
- Word Salad Lyrics: They did not publish their lyrics and buried their vocals in the mix, at some points even singing nonsense lyrics - one of their writing methods was as follows: Kevin would sit down and sing something, and then Bilinda would listen to the tape and write down what she thought he sang. Kevin Shields even admitted that he at one point considered grading fansite transcriptions of their lyrics based on accuracy.
- According to Word of God, ironically, writing the lyrics was one of the more time-consuming parts of Loveless. Shields himself once said, "there's nothing worse than bad lyrics".