There’s a wonderful line in one of Ricky Gervais’ bits, about the insufferable eagerness of philosophy students to demonstrate their newfound, facile comprehension of heady concepts, concepts that have no immediate or compelling relationship with the real world.
“See that table? It’s not there, mate.”
Thanks to the arrival of mbv—My Bloody Valentine’s second album in two decades—many music critics are likely to go long on the corporeality of tables.
Few great artists survive a great lull, and nowhere is this maxim so frequently and cruelly demonstrated as in pop music. Take the case of British rock mainstays The Cure, who since the mid-1980s regularly sold out 50,000-seat arenas in America and anchored countless European and UK music festivals. Following a massive world tour in support of their 1992 LP Wish (which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200), the group fell apart. Four ruinous years later, Robert Smith released the directionless Wild Mood Swings as if upending his wastebasket in your living room while wearing a shit-eating grin. Multiple American dates on the group’s 1996 tour were canceled for lack of interest, and Smith took a pounding in the press. Forced to confront the onset of life as inveterate nostalgia, he eventually delivered the conforming comfort of Bloodflowers in 2000, before settling into a more rational pattern of barrel-rolling fan festivals over the last ten years.
Some artists are casualties of tectonic shifts in taste. Led Zeppelin, for example, could not exist in the 1980s, because Led Zeppelin were the 1970s—a decade everyone wanted over so badly, they tried to end it early with punk rock. With the technocratic promises of science fiction drawing closer via the arrival of video games and personal computers, the 1980s exhausted itself in trying to look as little like the 1970s as possible. In those days, the dawning of a new decade lent a very distinct excitement—a hope, even a demand—for art that could mark and affirm the validity of the New. This yearning is necessarily twinned with vocal repudiation of the Old, and repeated itself at the end of the 1980s. Had Kurt Cobain survived, I expect the same process would have felled Nirvana at the turn of this century. Here, and truly in every measurable aspect, My Bloody Valentine has cheated fate.
mbv maintains the character that kept the band’s landmark 1991 album Loveless alive for so many years. Some critics have chastised a lack of stylistic ambition on the new record, yet despite countless advances in digital audio technology since Loveless bowed, it remains rock music’s Voynich manuscript more than twenty years later. Indecipherable—and for that matter, inexhaustible—Loveless needs no successor. Brian Eno, the Kevin Shields before Kevin Shields, declared it the vaguest pop music he’d heard, and it is precisely this quality that invites us to backfill the missing specifics with our own experiences and emotions. [...]