Prior to last weekend, Kevin Shields had become a figure of fun in many quarters (or, at least, in my household) simply because here was a man slogging away at sonically revolutionary, near-spiritual and idealogical perfectionism in an age when people knock out echo-laden dream-pop on their MacBooks in their lunch breaks.
And it all seemed rather brilliant, rather worthy and rather un-now.
And it all seemed worth waiting for, and worth mocking all at once.
And it turns out these diametrically opposed thoughts were right all along.
Because the suddenly-released m b v just wasn’t worth it.
Go on, admit it. It’s easy. Glance forward a couple of months: you’re in the mood to pop on a mind-melting, meanderingly muddled album that sounds like it’s from the future.
You’re not going to reach for the phoned-in, inevitably-Pitchfork-7.8-scoring third album from My Bloody Valentine, are you? You’ll scroll one click less and select Loveless, and you’ll be correct to do so, too.
Kevin got it wrong. He laboured for decades – decades! Plural! – over an album he should never have released. Initially I thought he should’ve released it in 1996 as intended, and then I realised that even that was wrong – he should never have released it at all.
The third MBV album should never have sounded even remotely like Loveless. Instead, it should have dared to be reckless: the oft-rumoured drum ’n’ bass flavoured MBV album would’ve been crucifyingly bad, but at least it’d have drawn a full stop under The, Like, Coolest Album, Like, Ever; and – crucially – it’d allow him to move on.
Now, listen out into the wider world for the criticism of m b v – and listen hard, because it’s not forthcoming (yet). Maybe it will never arrive. Because MBV are just so agonisingly cool: how do you stab rock’s Cool Jesus Band in the back? How do you separate yourself from that particularly outré flock?
Yet: it should be done. And then witness this month’s mini-glut of surprise!!! comebacks.
Pulp’s After You? A decent effort, but one that wouldn’t have got within sniffing distance of the supreme Sisters EP in 1994.
Bowie’s Where Are We Now? is nice, but not a patch even on his output from the fallow years of ten years ago – and I defy anyone to justify the word “that” rhyming with itself three times inside two lines.
The hardest element to swallow about these comebacks is that they are driven in part by neo/faux-nostalgia.
In itself, this is not a bad thing, as long as the songs are worth it. Except that virtually none of them are, and the ones listed above might indeed be OK – but my life has hardly been enriched by their existence. But now who dares point out that not only is the Emperor naked, but is pointing, laughing and scratching his balls, too.
So how to do a comeback? Well, Suede, always confused for a band who were pretentious, (when actually, a certain luxurious straightforwardness was their trademark), were the ones who nailed it.
Barriers is a glorious pop song that soars, and glides, and skims the surface of the band’s own expectation like a glitter-covered stone, fully aware of its own ludicrousness.
It wasn’t that Suede weren’t aware of what they had to compete with that lurked in their past; it wasn’t even that they didn’t believe that they needed to compete with it. They just moved onwards, industriously – and ended up right in the spot we all assumed they would land in.
They produced a brilliantly touching, stretched and glossy pop song. We let it pass us by because it wasn’t remarkable, and in 2013, every single pop culture item has to be spiky and shattered and complex and different and OMFG.
And yet by simply ignoring this conceit, they did the hardest thing of all: they excelled, anew, again.