My Bloody Valentine is an excellent band for the music critic. Not necessarily because they’re good – and they’re usually very, very good – but because their career adopted so many styles and changes in their first decade of existence that each full-length, compilation, and extended-play1 is a novel experience. Listening to the Dublin quartet2 is, frankly, a pop-music equivalent of a spectator’s sport,3 and their releases are a good exercise for one who is interested in trends and styles of the eighties and nineties – notwithstanding the evolution of the modern indie/alternative scene – through a band who adopted half of them, if not started most of them.
Take This Is Your Bloody Valentine as an example. It’s the first release by the group, which in addition to group mainstays Kevin Shields and percussionist5 Colm Ó Cíosóig featured original vocalist David Conway and keyboardist Tina Durkin. For those whose experience of My Bloody Valentine is relegated to their three full-lengths Isn’t Anything, Loveless, and m b v, this seven-track mini-album sounds like an entirely different band – like comparing Pablo Honey-era Radiohead to that of Kid A and Amnesiac.
There’s none of that swirl of sound or staticky noise that characterized pretty much every other release6 by the band; hell, there’s not even tape hiss. This Is Your Bloody Valentine demonstrates the group’s foundations in gothic rock and post-punk. There is substantial lyrical/compositional influence from groups such as The Cramps and Bauhaus; the group’s admiration of The Cure’s long-haired internal-darkness is obvious just on the album cover alone.7 Conway’s voice has that hackneyed stuffy-nose delivery popularized by Robert Smith; thankfully, he’d replace it with something a bit less derivative on future releases with the band.
This album is – for the most part – quite imitative of the extant trends of the late-seventies and eighties. It was recorded in West Berlin, and if that conjurs up any woe-is-me stereotypes, then you’re on the right track. The first two songs utilize the same “whoa” backing vocals that powered every Killing Joke single that got any airplay. “Tiger in the Tank” and “The Last Supper” have a bit of old-school garage rock flavorings, with the latter track sounding straight-up like The Doors, with no minor bit of that comparison owed to Durkin’s keyboard-organ underpinning. “Forever and Again” has a spooky bass line that evokes a weekend cartoon on Halloween morning; it’s a good example of early gothic rock’s silliness, intentional or otherwise. The lyrics are standard silly love songs8 with none of the irony or disturbing imagery of later releases that featured Conway.
Tycoon Records released This Is Your Bloody Valentine in 1985. Three years later, and after a time spent flirting with C86 twee melodies, My Bloody Valentine wrote and recorded the You Made Me Realise extended-play and Isn’t Anything full-length – both incredible syntheses of early shoegaze, noise pop, and alternative rock. Two years after that, the Loveless concept of abstract guitar textures merged with dream pop melodies came to partial fruition upon the release of the Glider extended-play (and later Tremolo). That’s an incredible amount of thematic and compositional development over half of a decade, a time during which most bands would be lucky to release two full-length studio albums, let alone completely invent and reinvent their style three or four times and reach absurd critical/cult acclamation while doing so.
While This Is Your Bloody Valentine isn’t something for which one should write home,9 its context is provocative and makes it a fun bit of work for those interested in My Bloody Valentine’s career. Casual fans of the band won’t get anything out of listening to this, except to satisfy some minor curiosity with a cursory flip-through. Otherwise, let it stand as a manner in which one may further appreciate the creative influence and evolution that this small Dublin band achieved with such humble beginnings.
1. Forever and Again – (3:33) – ★★☆☆☆
2. Homelovin’ Guy – (3:03) – ★★☆☆☆
3. Don’t Cramp My Style – (2:27) – ★★★☆☆
4. Tiger in My Tank – (3:31) – ★★★☆☆
5. The Love Gang – (3:55) – ★★★☆☆
6. Inferno – (4:41) – ★★★☆☆
7. The Last Supper – (4:31) – ★★★☆☆
1… and there are a lot of them. My Bloody Valentine were far more than Loveless, and some of their most conceptually confounding work never came close to full-length studio releases.
2… regardless of whatever members formed that quartet.
3Radiohead is similar in this regard.4
4There are going to be a few Radiohead references in this article.
5… because it just isn’t fair to call him a “drummer.” Kind of like Portishead’s Geoff Barrow or Radiohead’s Phil Selway.
6… except maybe the Geek! extended-play, released shortly after This Is Your Bloody Valentine.
7Seriously, just look at that fucking hair on Conway.
8… of which there are a surprising amount. Gothic rock was way more lovey-dovey silliness than its reputation belies.
9… or on-line.