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My Bloody Valentine's Loveless 33 1/3

February 15, 2007

For those of you who don’t know, the 33 1/3 series is a successful line of short books devoted to the making of certain popular and acclaimed albums. Considering almost nothing significant has come out of the My Bloody Valentine front in the past ten years or so and close to no news on Kevin Shields has surfaced in months (save an interview in Magnet earlier in the year), this is news, and I picked it up without exactly knowing what the series had to offer. I will say that for fans, this is a must have. What the book does is outline what went on with the making of Loveless, a classic album that broke a ton of ground and ended up being a staple of popular music. If you haven’t heard it, you really need to. Like it or hate it, I really do believe it is essential listening. The book is nice, but to be honest it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting a full length book when in fact the 33 1/3 series is comprised of fairly small coffee-table books a little over one hundred small pages in length. I was also expecting the book to be filled with stuff that mostly audiophiles would be interested in, like production techniques and effects and stuff. I was also surprised in that area, as the book ended up being less technical stuff and more technique, ideas, and principles involved with the record. That may have not been the goldmine that more avid and knowledgeable fans were expecting, but I’m honestly not an audiophile so I do feel like my time wasn’t wasted. Where would I be able to learn more about sound quality and technique and such? I have no idea.

It was Valentine’s Day a few days ago and I actually woke up to this present on my kitchen table. My mother got it for me as a present (AAAAWWWWWW), and it was Valentine’s Day after all, so I decided to read it when I got back from school and then give Loveless another listen for it’s special day. After reading the book, the sound seemed to make more sense, which may be good or very, very bad. Part of what makes Loveless so enjoyable is how big of a mystery it is, not so much in production but in it’s subtleties and wonderful details. Every time you listen to that record, be it in a new place or not, you learn something new about it, even moreso if you really crank the volume. But it is kind of better to not think about it so much, so it’s one thing to not be educated enough about it and something else to go “hey, that’s that certain effect.” Luckily, the book doesn’t suck the life out of the album. It does reveal some certain effects, a comfortable amount. It does clear up a lot of the myth around the album and seperates truth from fiction once and for all. The biggest fiction that has surrounded the album for fifteen years is that Loveless bankrupt Creation and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. The truth is that Creation was already broke and strung out on drugs by the time Loveless got started. Loveless may have cost a lot of money, but really it wasn’t as much as people usually think, and a lot of the problems arose from Creation sending them to different studios at a really fast pace so that it just took a lot of time to get settled and get things done comfortably.

Another myth is that any given track on Loveless has tons of guitars, and this just isn’t true. Most songs on Loveless only have two guitars on them. What makes them sound so huge and wonderful is the technique employed by Shields and the awesome use of the tremelo arm, which by no means is easy to use. Only Shields and Butcher could really get the hang of it. And it’s true, Shields was a perfectionist in the sound quality department, but honestly, the album came out close to perfect and no doubt extremely close to what Shields wanted, so it’s all good. The book elaborates on the studio experience pretty vaguely, actually, because it is extremely hard to judge where the recordings took place because they were bouncing around too much. But all the difficulties are made clear, and all the people credited to production get a little bit of light shed on them, which is nice. And all of it is reliable too, as the writer actually got in contact with three out of four members of the band. There are a few strange little mistakes though. There seems to be some confusion on Dave Conway’s name, as well as sequence involved with certain tracks and the EPs. Tiny little things. Chapters are divided up nicely, with each chapter being devoted to certain topics like vocals, guitar effects, sleep deprivation, and the state of the band members. A lot of background information is provided too, so it’s not just all Loveless but also other information from the preceeding and following eras that bring lots of stuff out of obscurity. He could have easily screwed that up by not giving adequate background information, but the scene is set pretty well here.

What I did have a problem with was some of the personal opinions of the author. It’s not like it’s their job to agree with me, but on some levels I felt like my own opinions were being encroached upon. Especially with the short outline of the album he gives early on. It’s not like I disagree with most of the stuff he says, but he does kind of dismiss “I Only Said” as a weaker track, which is totally not true. And he kind of injects his own life and experiences into the book a bit much, interjecting now and then with his own anecdotes. But that is probably good, as he is a veteran of the time who saw the band live on numerous times, making his vivid description of some certain live aspects all the more real. Another problem I had was the post script. The last part makes a fair bit of sense, but for the most part it’s an advertisement for Rafael Toral’s album Wave Field. Which I guess is alright and I won’t complain because it is a post script, after all, and not really part of the book. It just seemed a bit unnecessary. But very few stones are left unturned in this book and I really appreciate that, as there is just so much myth surrounding the record.

Almost all of that myth is cleared up here, and for those of you who think you know enough anyway, a lot of the book is scattered excerpts of a recent interview with Shields, so that and the cheap price should be enough to secure the purchase. This is probably the most definitive and well compiled source of reliable information that you can get on Loveless, and fans will love it. It’s a quick but informative read that reveals a lot in the way of production, musical theory, and personal affairs of the band. And yes, it does shed quite a bit more light on the futures of the band members, in a fairly positive way too. Loveless is an album that really needs this kind of book, and it’s already helping me to appreciate the album more because I do feel a lot more knowledgeable about one of my favorite albums. Which by the way really does sound completely different at full blast, which I learned not too long ago. This book is nice and fun to read, but don’t let it make you sit by your hi-fi studiously analyzing anything. That’s totally missing the point. It just gives you quite a bit more to dabble in, presents a tidal wave of great facts, and significantly eases the pain of the abscence of any follow-ups.

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