The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: The Deafening Splendor of My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine inspired purple journalistic prose and surreal interpretation. But onstage they merely enjoyed inflicting pain. Stephen Dalton spoke to them for Vox in April 1992——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
"My Bloody Valentine are not rock 'n' roll, they are God!"
Backstage at Reading University on the first night of the band's UK tour, My Bloody Valentine main man Kevin Shields cowers in bashful bemusement under a barrage of hysterical praise from 20-year-old superfan Jason Kelpie.
"If the world ended tomorrow and there was nothing left but My Bloody Valentine, I'd be happy. They are the coolest f---ing sonic visual experience we've got. You can't beat My Bloody Valentine with a big stick! Only having your brains blown out with a massive shotgun while on acid comes close to My Bloody Valentine! Worship at the altar of My Bloody Valentine! Religion sucks, but the closest thing to religion we've got is My Bloody Valentine..."
Strange that four outwardly calm individuals should consistently attract such extreme reactions. A band whose languorous work-rate makes three-toed sloths seem hyperactive, who never commit themselves to even the vaguest statement of intent, who dress like woolly mammoths and spurn the glittering limelight of cult success. A band whose lyrics rarely refer to anything remotely recognizable and whose alien music screams down from a candy-floss Valhalla, rubbing its sleepy eyes as it plummets earthwards.
Yes indeed, there's plenty more where that came from — MBV have inspired more fanciful flights of purple journalistic prose than any other group of the past decade, for one simple reason: the sheer face of swirling noise that is the Valentines in full flight presents a blank canvas eight miles high for whatever open-ended interpretation the beholder wants to project there. Drugs is an obvious favorite. Sex and dreams and extreme violence are up there, too. Very few critics mention aquariums or kitchen utensils, but they might just as well do.
Such vanities are not on Kevin's mind after the Reading show. Characteristically modest in his critical post-mortem, he complains: "It was really mediocre, the sound was awful onstage, we played badly."
Not strictly true. There are slack moments of routine grunge-rock in tonight's set, but everything else is a fiercely controlled fireworks display of overheating psychedelic noise. Strafed by strobes and bathed in eerie purple light, the Valentines surgically extract immaculate sound-symphonies from their awesome new album Loveless, and methodically mutilate them almost beyond recognition. Bone-crunching dance beats and ethnic twiddles from their two recent EPs, 'Glider' and 'Tremolo', also make a strong showing. But it is the fragments of 1988's seminal Isn't Anything LP that really rock Reading, particularly a mutant cousin of 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' which emerges from an ear-splitting ten-minute encore of apocalyptic thunder. World War III contained on a single stage — call MBV an art band if you want, but this brain-bending display is the closest thing to the catharsis called rock 'n' roll anyone here has ever witnessed.