Today sees My Bloody Valentine’s genre-defining Loveless album turn a quarter of a century old, and there are barely any alternative music albums I’ve heard over the last 25 years without being reminded of it in some small way. Which is weird, because Loveless itself sounds like nothing else ever written
Unlike many records that regularly feature in lists of classics, MBV’s second album is hardly one that’s always been considered an essential part of the discerning music lover’s collection. It’s gone from the flagship album of ‘the scene that celebrated itself’ at the time of its release, to the prototype for the revival of the shoegaze and dream-pop scene today, and gone through a considerable spell of being something of an overlooked cult album in between. This means that, while it’s always remained an influential album, who it has influenced, and how it’s influenced them, has been a changable process over the two and a half decades.
With this in mind, I’ve looked at each of the years since its release and found an album that I don’t think would exist in the same way, if at all, were it not for two Irishmen, two Englishwomen, umpteen producers and an almost bankrupt record company in 1991.
Some of these bands might not be aware of the Loveless influence. Some of them might categorically deny it. Some of these choices might leave you thinking I’ve shoegazed myself into a deluded stupor, as we go from the blindingly obvious to the ‘how the hell d’you work that out?’, but bear with me and let’s start with…
1. The Cure – Wish (1992)
Robert Smith was a big fan of Loveless, once saying that MBV “pissed all over us“. The Cure’s ninth and dreamiest album was released just six months later and, though best known for weekend anthem ‘Friday I’m In Love’, led with the much more jangly and ethereal single ‘High’.
It’s perhaps the first and last songs where the influence is most notable though.’Open’ sways and seesaws in a way not unlike Loveless opener ‘Only Shallow’, while ‘End’ ensures the album is bookended with a nod to MBV.
2. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)
When shoegaze meets grunge. Billy Corgan’s appreciation of Kevin Shields’ craft saw him introduce a little more abstraction into their 1993 album, and a desire to create a ‘left ear, right ear’ effect that would confuse and astound the listener.
Whether it’s the shimmering, layered intro to ‘Today’ or the experimental ‘Silverfuck’, the Pumpkins added a new dimension to their distinctive alt-rock sound that paved the way for albums to come.
3. Lush – Split (1994)
One of several names quickly reeled off when talking of shoegaze’s original heyday, Lush developed a more punky and Britpop-oriented sound as the ‘90s progressed.
This album offers perhaps the best balance between the gazey roots of a scene spearheaded by Loveless, and Lush’s more caustic and angst-ridden direction to come.
4. Slowdive – Pygmalion (1995)
Any Slowdive album could’ve appeared here really, with 1993’s Souvlaki often seen as part of the shoegaze ‘Big Three’ along with Loveless and Ride’s Nowhere.
Pygmalion is a bit more of a Marmite album among fans and critics, with some loving its tender minimalism and others finding it something of a turgid Neil Halstead whim. Either way, the sweeping guitars and coming and going vocals of ‘Crazy For You’ add a touch of the ‘To Here Knows When’ on what is a challenging but rewarding album.
5. Mazzy Star – Among My Swan (1996)
If you take Loveless and tone down the reverb, echoes and general production levels, the simplicity and rawness of Mazzy Star could represent what you’re left with.
On tracks like ‘Disappear’ and ‘Happy’, the pedal effects act more as a gentle growling undercurrent than anything at the front of the mix, and the drums are often barely audible, much like on ‘Sometimes’ from Loveless.
6. Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997)
Critics fawned over this space-rock yardstick, with NME naming it 1997’s Album of the Year. It featured electronic samples, gospel choirs, and plenty of the kind of pedal and drone effects mastered in Loveless.
Definitely an album more in the vein of MBV’s dreamy, cloud-like output than their louder, harsher material.
7. Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998)
Hole themselves were certainly never Loveless (geddit? Oh, never mind!), but Courtney is said to have cited Loveless as an inspiration for her band’s most well-known album, which included hits like ‘Malibu’ and the title track. I’d have to say, the influence ain’t that obvious – maybe somewhere in the sway and drone of ‘Reasons to be Beautiful’?
Trendy namedropping or not from Courtney, perhaps the excitement of Loveless and its effect on Billy Corgan, who boasts heavy songwriting credits here, contributed to an album that’s hard not to like.
8. Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun (1999)
The Icelanders have laughed off suggestions that MBV have influenced them, saying such music had yet to reach their isolated part of the world.
Be that as it may, it’s difficult to listen to sections like the outro of ‘Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása’ and not think that a second or third hand influence of Loveless hadn’t somehow made it to the brink of the Arctic Circle
9. Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
Alright, I’m pushing my luck a bit here by picking an album widely regarded to have thrown away the rule book, but I couldn’t overlook Radiohead. Critics have noted how influential Loveless has been on their textured, wall-of-sound guitar noise.
Even the most original of work takes its influences from somewhere, and with this being their most unconventional and abstract release, I’m saying this is Radiohead’s most Lovelessy album.
10. My Vitriol – Finelines (2001)
Music history hasn’t been too kind to the early ’00s, with many bands that generated excitement at the time now largely either pilloried or forgotten. My Vitriol certainly fall into the latter of those two categories, with what was perhaps the first album ever to be labelled ‘nu-gaze’.
Long-term, the tag didn’t do them too many favours, despite some very decent songs.
11. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
Understandably, Interpol are readily compared to Joy Division, but those long industrial drones in ‘The New’ and ‘Untitled’ are not like anything ever produced by Ian Curtis and co.
Look to Loveless and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s back catalogue for some clues.
12. Deftones – Deftones (2003)
With nu-metal the staple of the era, it’s hard to imagine in 2003 that anybody would’ve associated Deftones with shoegaze, but today it seems widely accepted that the genre wormed its way into their work, and this album in particular.
The most obvious example is ‘Minerva’, which is as gazey as it gets, albeit with a metal punch packed in for good measure.
13. Autolux – Future Perfect (2004)
I mentioned earlier that Loveless is an album of simplicity despite its complex production. If you lose the simplicity and replace it with stop-start rhythms, abrasive instrumental sections and vocals hovering in and out of key, you end up with something like Autolux.
From their debut album, ‘Turnstyle Blues’ offers a mixture of abrasion and danciness reminiscent of ‘Soon’.
14. Amusement Parks on Fire – Amusement Parks on Fire (2005)
Amusement Parks on Fire came far too late for shoegaze’s prime and a little too early for its revival, and in fact their debut has drifted into undeserved obscurity.
It’s a fine album too, made all the more impressive by being entirely the work of Nottingham teenager Michael Feerick, and though its influences are obvious, it’s a heady 21st-Century revamp of the old MBV prototype.
15. Silversun Pickups – Carnavas (2006)
Silversun Pickups’ debut full-length seemed to cherry-pick some of the best alternative music of the previous couple of decades and meld it into something most agreeable.
Pixies basslines, Pumpkins guitar fuzz and a healthy garnish of MBV-esque shoegaze sees ‘Melatonin’ open the album sublimely.
16. A Place To Bury Strangers – A Place To Bury Strangers (2007)
Anyone who’s seen MBV live will know that they’re not ones to shy away from volume, but APTBS take that as merely a starting point and raise the noise levels to the truly eardrum-shredding.
‘Falling Sun’ shimmers, screeches and suffocates the listener in an even more disorientating way than tracks like ‘I Only Said’.
17. Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
With a shoegaze revival emanating as the decade drew to a close, Chris Martin accepted his invitation onto the retrospective MBV bandwagon when talking to BBC 6music in 2007.
The title track and the outro of ‘Yes’ do seem to see Coldplay take elements of MBV’s layered approach, if only to present it in their usual slightly boring and vacuous way.
18. The Horrors – Primary Colours (2009)
Gothic, grimy and gazey stuff. The Horrors underwent a pretty radical transformation for their second album, teetering between morbidity and psychedelia using shoegaze soundscapes as a vehicle. It was sometimes met with derision, but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t original.
In a peculiar twist, ‘Three Decades’ is about the closest thing I’ve heard musically to ‘Wonder 2’, which wrapped up mbv four years later.
19. Alcest – Écailles de Lune (2010)
What would Kevin Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig have started had they been young French metalheads rather than Irish punks?
MBV’s ability to make vocals blend in with music is helped by some of the whispered, mumbled singing, but Alcest somehow manage to make even guttural bellows sit neatly amid the mix. Final tracks ‘Solar Song’ and ‘Sur L’Océan Couleur De Fer’ showcase the band at their shoegaziest.
20. Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials (2011)
Upon first listen, Florence’s second album reminded me a lot of the Cocteau Twins. Tuning in further made me hear elements of Loveless all over the place.
A moody and Celtic-sounding record, ‘Breaking Down’ sees Florence, usually known for her powerful vocals, reduced to breathy whispers hushed by chiming piano keys and plodding guitars.
21. DIIV – Oshin (2012)
Arguably the hallmark album of new age shoegaze, Oshin‘s legend was perhaps enhanced by DIIV doing an MBV in repeatedly delaying the release of its follow-up.
Its tracks have an almost instrumental quality, but where Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals drift in, they always follow the Loveless low-in-the-mix blueprint.
22. Cult of Luna – Vertikal (2013)
Another example of the unlikely fruition of ‘metalgaze’, the cinematic Vertikal is awash with electronic interjection and growly vocals, but there’s a brooding imminence of MBV’s textured, layered guitars beneath it all.
Even the album cover looks shoegaze!
23. Whirr – Sway (2014)
Whirr were pretty damn good before their keyboard warriorship got them into a bit of a pickle. Their 2014 album was nothing earth-shatteringly original, but summed up everything great about the music Loveless has spawned.
Vague one-word titles, murmured lyrics and loud, slow swirls of guitars mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if they are, sup it up! And if they’re not, why are you still here?
24. Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (2015)
Reaching #2 in the album charts last year, Wolf Alice’s debut showed that distorted, reverb-heavy sounds aren’t just a preference of loners and stoners, but are becoming increasingly accepted on the Radio 1 playlist. With rippling guitars blended with almost scat vocals in the background, ‘Bros’ has a vibe not unlike ‘Blown A Wish’.
25. Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered (2016)
The best shoegaze release I’ve heard this year sees the Russians inject some punk rock pace and grunge-style ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’ dynamics into the formula. Well, ‘loud verse, even louder chorus’ is probably more accurate, actually.
The high-pitched cooing vocals of Lyubov Soloveva, not unlike those of Bilinda Butcher or Rachel Goswell from Slowdive, peak just above the cauldron of noise.