I don’t like this album, and I’ve heard it many times. In particular, I don’t like how the drummer sounds like a slightly better but still primitive drum machine than on Isn’t Anything. I don’t like how every song is just three-four chords throughout. I don’t like how every song isn’t so much a song as they are sustained settings, which, in combination with the previous statement, makes for a bunch of songs that you can often end prematurely without losing much (in particular, witness the last few minutes of “I Only Said” and “Soon,” which are so proud of their admittedly great riffs that we get to hear them ad nauseum). I don’t like the lack of variety within the album. In other words, I don’t like the lack of songwriting. I don’t like how the male singer can’t sing, though this album thankfully has less of that than on the preceding or forthcoming albums. I don’t like how the female singer gets a bunch of huzzahs and hooplas because she is a woman; as a vocalist, she’s nothing special. I don’t like how the lyrics aren’t so much lyrics as they are catchphrases; Slowdive, who was another shoegaze band comprising of a non-descript man and a pretty and pretty-sounding woman, wrote much better ones in comparison. But, to use that old cliché, hate is a strong word, and I don’t hate this album. I do, however, hate what this album stands for. Can’t sing? Can’t songwrite? Well, with only just $500,000 of studio equipment, just drench your lack of melodies in guitar feedback and/or echo and/or reverb and voila! Watch the people eat it up. (Then wait twenty-two years after that and release it again with louder drums and watch as they eat it again.)
The reason I don’t hate this album is because even I have to admit it has its charms that you can’t find anywhere else, and that uniqueness is probably the key reason why people flock to Loveless or forgave Kevin Shields for taking twenty-two years to make m b v; they just wanted anything at all. The riffs of the following songs are gold-star stuff, for various reasons: “Only Shallow” (for being so bracingly loud and juxtaposing well with the sweet singing of Bilinda Butcher), “To Here Knows When” (for sounding like a pink cascade), “When You Sleep” and “I Only Said” (for sounding like nothing else that came before or after; glad to hear that half-a-mil going to good use) and “Soon” (for being the soundtrack to a kid skipping down the street and man, do I miss my childhood; best riff on the album). And there are no bad songs: and the minute-long “Touched” is kind of cool for having a guitar successfully manipulated into sounding like an elephant and then a violin. “Loomer” has a nice keyboard (?) melody that makes itself known when Bilinda doesn’t (first materializing at the 0:37 mark). A good moment on the album is at the 1:59 mark of “Soon” where the title word is uttered and a slab of guitar harmonizes perfectly with it. The best melody the album has is the one that begins at the 3:26 mark of the bass-heavy “Sometimes,” which is easily the album’s most atmospheric, and proceeds to carry the song out. (On that note, diffident vocals aside, this album really isn’t all that atmospheric.) “Blown a Wish” is the most sonically interesting because of high-pitched jolts that punctuate the vocal melody.
At the end of the day, I’ll throw my hands up and admit this is one of the best albums of 1991 – not the best. And though I prefer Souvlaki because “Alison” means more to me than anything here, if you want to call this the best shoegaze album of all time, I won’t argue either because I know that shoegaze was a genre that meant nothing at all in the grand scheme of things and that being the best album in such a small genre is sort of like being the king of a playground. If that’s what you want to be, then do you.