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Definitive Albums: My Bloody Valentine 'Isn't Anything' (1988)

Anything Better?

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my bloody valentine- isn't anything
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First-Born, Second-Best

Isn't Anything is an album routinely praised indirectly; hailed for its proximity to greatness, not its own greatness. As one of only two albums made by legendary shoegaze titans My Bloody Valentine, it will always have willing listenership; there no other places to turn to in the MBV discography.

But Isn't Anything will, even moreso with more passing of time, be viewed by its relationship to the Valentines' 1991 magnum opus Loveless, an album inching higher up 'greatest LP of all time' charts with each new year. It's the debut that set the stage; the warm-up for the red-hot classic; the groundbreaking debut that laid the foundation for the monumental LP that followed.

You can't really contest this position. Loveless is as close to bullet-proof as longplaying albums get; a glorious shrine to the sonic possibilities of the recording studio, one of the most singular-sounding albums ever minted, and a genuine testament to rock'n'roll as possessing genuine power, not mere nostalgia.

I'm sure there's a contingent of rebels who prefer Isn't Anything; the album that introduced the sound to the one that refined it; the rough, more rocking, definitely more wild debut to the sophomore master-class. But, even still, that preference revolves around Loveless; existing in opposition to it, opinion-wise. What's hard is to judge Isn't Anything in-and-of itself; something that few seem willing and interested in doing.

Swooningly, Swimmingly

On their debut album, My Bloody Valentine had plenty of forebears that they'd learnt from, and the debt lingers in the music. There's the atonal, desconstructed, free-noise guitar playing of Roland S. Howard in the Birthday Party. There's the deadpan detachment and across-the-board fuzz of the Jesus and Mary Chain. And there's the piled-up scorch and scuzz of the alt-rock '80s' most influential guitar-rock outfit, Sonic Youth.

But Isn't Anything still must have sounded alien when it touched down, alighting on Earthly airs with an eerie, ethereal, spectral quality that radically reconfigured the predominant paradigms of rock'n'roll. My Bloody Valentine weren't about backbeat and swing; weren't about sexual swagger, a charismatic singer, and stage heroics; weren't about the glorification of individual players, of melody, of chorus and verse. They were sound as one almighty thing; an impenetrable sonic maelstrom coming at listeners fully-formed.

'Swooning' is an adjective oft used to described this sound; evoking, as it does, the wobble and of Shields' guitar, which uses the tremolo bar to bend strings slack. Yet, the swooning really speaks more of the experience of listening to My Bloody Valentine; not just Loveless, but Isn't Anything. The sumptuous richness of their thick, gauzy, unendingly opaque sound is a kind of sonic syrup; to sup it causes delirious wooziness.

On Isn't Anything, there's plenty of moments of straight-head rocking; especially the early-on-Side-B trio of "Feed Me with Your Kiss," "Sueisfine," and "You Never Should." But, where Loveless is defined by its white-hot moments, the real spirit of MBV's first LP lingers in their most blissed-out moments; in the dream-sequence strangeness of "Lose My Breath," the almost rhythmless, hall-of-static slowdance of "All I Need," and the romantic, hopelessly-devoted, unexpectedly sexy "Cupid Come."

Here, the moments to treasure don't come during the heady rush of climax, but in the longing of anticipation, and the spent vulnerability post-coitus. In spite of its rocking second side and second-best reputation, Isn't Anything is a perfect work unto itself; an album whose sonic bluster isn't distant, but intimate.

Record Label: Creation
Release Date: November 1, 1988

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