To Here Knows When
Mike McGonigal, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Continuum 33 1/3, 2007
Continuum’s 33 1/3 series continues apace with another landmark album placed under the literary microscope. The series is noted for its short guides to all the essential landmark albums of all time, as it were – Exile on Main Street, Pet Sounds, OK Computer, The Stone Roses, Forever Changes, There’s a Riot Goin’ On (Astral Weeks, A Kind of Blue, Songs in the Key of Life and What’s Goin’ On can’t be far behind), as well as few unusual suspects. It’s pedant heaven, for Mojo subscribers who love to argue the toss. Another defining feature is that the authors range from musicians themselves through to basic fans. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is definitely one of the mid-stream candidates for inclusion, a Paul’s Boutique rather than a Pet Sounds.
Of the shoegazing era, which the author firmly places it but also seeks to mount a rival argument for its consideration as a classic album, it’s probably the only candidate that could make such a list. There’s no room for Going Blank Again in here. As I said, pedants who like nothing better than to argue the toss. Loveless is significant for a number of reasons. By legend alone it almost bankrupted Creation Records through frontman Kevin Shields’ erratic perfectionism and among shoegazers it’s the one record that has, cliché notwithstanding, truly stood the test of time (listened to Revolver’s Baby’s Angry recently? Thought not.)
McGonigal has opted for the post-modern approach: it’s one third personal experience (the band’s 1992 dates in Pennsylvania, “As a kid in South Florida…” etc), one third telephone interviews with key players and one third secondary research, some clearly via google. While no one could take issue with the technique, it’s the transparency that jars. The inclusion of comments from his editor David Barker to flesh out the narrative towards the end is either foolish or brilliant and you’ll probably have your own view on that.
The book clearly suffers from following in the wake of the weightier and heavily forensic (at first sight) story of Creation Records, My Magpie Eyes are Hungry for the Prize by David Cavanagh. The book also has the misfortune of trampling on a key moment in Creation Records’ Alan McGee’s life, the much-documented drag on his label’s finances caused by the spiralling studio bills incurred during the album’s troubled recording (citing Pat Fish’s earlier claim in the Cavanagh book, that Creation’s other artists were forced into much-resented virtual poverty because of the album: “no one could afford to eat because of Kevin Shields.”) The two are interconnected. While Canvanagh’s book is considerably longer, it lacks authenticity according to Shields, who contends that it subsequently disgraced the author. Shields also repeats Alan McGee’s assertion of the time that the book was simply an “accountant’s tale”, something I more accredited to the existence of a rival wrapped-up in the moment Oasis-centric history of the label book by the otherwise more considered Paolo Hewitt, but am prepared to reconsider in the light of Shield’s claims here. However, McGee merely picks up where he left off and resorts to Conor McNicholas-esque Year Zero assertions unbecoming of his longevity in the business when asked to cooperate with the Loveless book: “Sorry; that record fucking bores me.” he replies, adding “Long live the Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things and Babyshambles.”
Where McGonigal’s book redeems itself is the access to the band he is afforded and the ability to ruminate on the album’s actual legacy and the band members’ subsequent ‘careers’. Sheilds’ work with Primal Scream and scoring of the reverent folly Lost in Translation is discussed, as is Debbie Googe’s disappointing post-MBV act Snowpony, not to mention the equally as legendary as the album troubles hiatus Sheilds has placed his band under.
Series editor David Barker has blogged about the other 33 1/3 titles for several years and continues to do so today. In 2005 he asked “is there a whole young generation of British music writers that we’re missing out on?” It’s a perfectly valid question as once again, a key English band (as with Erik Morse’s Spacemen 3 biography the previous year) has been left for an American to cover. Not to disparage the nationality (the abdication of duty is all ours) but the understanding of the subjects are appreciably different between the two schools of journalism and it would be interesting to see how the book would have fared under the pen of someone reared on the two British music weeklies of the era and immersed in the gigging culture, not to mention the probability that longer and more varied interviews would have been possible this side of the pond. The journalists McGonigal quotes of the time are now either writing comedy or ensconced firmly outside the realm of sticky concert floors and tour vans.
If the words Fender Jazzmaster, tremolo arm or chorus pedal mean something to you though, then you’ve probably bought this book already.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Stevens is contributing editor to 3:AM and lives in London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, May 9th, 2007.