The Null Device
This week, the formerly unthinkable happened: My Bloody Valentine released a follow-up to Loveless, simply titled m b v. It took them 21 years, and not much was heard of it until they announced that they finished mastering it late last year, on Mayan Apocalypse Day, and announced its announcement a few days before it came out. Anyway, you can buy it from their web site, either as a download or a download plus CD or vinyl, though I suspect that if you were holding out for a new MBV album, you have already done so.
The album itself follows on from Loveless, though diverges somewhat. It sounds like they've spent the first part of their exile from recording listening to a lot of other music; I imagine that I hear the influences of Stereolab and The High Llamas in a few songs (Is This And Yes sounds almost like it's a Beach Boys harpsichord line away from being a Llamas song), and he album ends with a track built up on a chopped-up Amen break through a flanger, a bit like that drum'n'bass thing that was big some 15 years ago. One gets the impression that this is not so much new material as material that has been in the works for two decades, finally wrapped up to make way for new material.
Meanwhile, in VICE, John “Menk” Doran posits the claim that MBV's absence from music-making is to blame for the rise of Tony Blair, the Iraq War and the grim meathook dystopia we're living in today. Presumably if Shields had hurried up, Britpop would have never happened and a charlatan like Blair could never have ridden on its Beatles-quoting, Union Jack-festooned coattails into No. 10, and thus we'd be living in a socialist utopia of some sort. (Either that or perpetual unvarnished Thatcherism, of course.)
When C17th Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” he was thinking about Kevin Shields. For when MBV hung up their guitar pedals at the height of their fame, a terrible power vacuum yawned open. The field was clear to stripey-tousered, juggling wazzocks like the Wonderstuff and lycra wearing buffoons Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine to become famous – when in a more civilised age you wouldn’t even have bothered to cross the road to set fire to them. The absence of the most forward looking guitarist of his generation in the early 90s, also led to a slew of appallingly boring shoe-gaze copyists such as Chapterhouse and Slowdive, meaning guitar music was literally anyone’s for the taking.
This meant, the retro-head guitar owners got their first look in since the late 60s. Suddenly making your guitar sound like a sighing whale wasn’t an option any more, all the FX pedals and psychedelic drugs were swapped for Kinks riffs, cocaine and talking like a brickie from Bermondsey. Utter bullshit like Blur and Menswear were hailed as heroes.(I don't agree with him on Slowdive, but he's on the money about Blur and Menswear, and much of the rest of Britpop.)
If only it had stopped there, though. Britpop itself ushered in the Cool Britannia era which erased the social and sonic progressiveness of the 1970s and 1980s in one fell swoop and culminated in the morally blank New Labour administration. (It is important to note that as soon as Tony Blair was ensconced into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, the first thing he did was to summon Alan McGee and Noel Gallagher, the singer of Creation’s biggest signings Oasis, to visit him. He wanted to be sure that Kevin Shields’ amazing drum and bass records would never see the light of day – literally the only thing that could have threatened his premiership at that point.)
Remembering our appearances during the 70s and the 80s, so much had moved on. But I understand that today's Kraftwerk fans won't be able to sense this. We used to move; these robots don't. The non-performance of Kraftwerk Mark III made me yawn; the concert went on too long. Thirty minutes less might haved worked, perhaps. But performing as Kraftwerk seemed to offer no joy to the four people who had to be Kraftwerk.
The whole spectacle appeared to me like a farewell-tour for ever. The guy [Stefan Pfaffe] who replaced Florian three years ago has latterly been replaced with a figure whose name is hard to keep in mind [Falk Grieffenhagen], and the turnover of music-workers is becoming quicker and quicker. At Ralf’s age, if he has become Grot – the alerter of the machines in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – he may find it hard to get new cogs who agree to examination. In some ways, Kraftwerk's story has become a bit like Goethe’s Zauberlehring, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The sorcerer had activated something all those years ago, and maybe now he can't stop it. The musique is non-Stop. The Volkswagen runs and runs and runs and runs...