Certain Songs #1217: My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”

Album: Loveless
Year: 1991

Two years in the making, and totally and completely obsessed over by Kevin Shields until every single ounce of spontaneity had been wringed from every microsecond of music, Loveless is a record that took me some time to love as much as I respected.

Usually, I like my rock ‘n’ roll a tad more human than the unearthly sounds that made up the vast majority of Loveless, so while I appreciated all of the different guitar sounds that Shields had uncovered, I’ll admit to never being quite as whelmed — much less overwhelmed — as the rest of the known universe.

Of course, as I’ve written before, the autumn of 1991 and the winter of 1992 featured so much great music that I didn’t even get around to getting Loveless until March 1992, and it’s entirely possible that my ears were a little bit weary from dealing with all of the awesome music (the Illusion twins, Girlfriend, Apocalypse ’91, Bandwagonesque, Achtung Baby! & Nevermind) of the preceding months. And I know that my heart was weary from my band breaking up for the third strike around that time.

Luckily, I’ve had a quarter-century to figure it out.

Kicking of with a quick-ass roll from drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig — who was sick throughout most of the sessions, meaning that most of the drums were really drum loops, something I musta picked up on at the time — “Only Shallow” explodes with the sound of knife sliding around on open toaster coils before settling into a spongy groove over which Bilinda Butcher songs a vocal melody she probably already knows will be buried so low in the mix it doesn’t matter what the words are.

Which is true on “Only Shallow:” what matters is the contrast between the relatively quiet (only 4000 guitars) verses, and the utter explosions of light and matter that surrounds those verses.

As a table-setter for the rest of Loveless, “Only Shallow” works perfectly for setting up song after song that alternates almost matter-of-fact ground-breaking guitar supporting the verses and insanely intrusive ground-breaking guitar tearing them apart.

“Only Shallow” official music video

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