My Bloody Valentine: “Only Shallow”
I had considered posting this yesterday as the song for Valentine’s Day, only because it’s by My Bloody Valentine, not because it’s particularly romantic (although obviously “your mileage may vary,” as they say). But I decided that would be a little too willfully contrarian and went with Steve Earle’s romantic song instead.
But here I am anyway, using it as my Valentine’s Day followup song, simply because it’s striking me as the thing to do this morning. It’s always interesting (to me, anyway) to see what I’m going to choose each day; I rarely have it planned out ahead of time — I just go with whatever is hitting me the right way that day. And My Bloody Valentine, as their name might suggest, is not only hitting me the right way, they’re threatening injury if I don’t post this one today.
“Only Shallow” is the lead track on My Bloody Valentine’s third and final album, 1991’s Loveless, an album widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential albums of the ’90s (although no, you probably haven’t heard any of this on the radio — but you have definitely heard the bands that have been influenced by them; among many others, U2 cite this album as a major influence on their Achtung Baby album). I can’t honestly say I have a clue what “Only Shallow” is about; Bilinda Butcher’s vocals are so buried in the mix that they’re extremely hard to decipher. Even a search of lyrics on the Internet isn’t that helpful, as what has been interpreted by listeners is a very dreamlike poem, completely open to interpretation. Really, it doesn’t matter: the vocals throughout Loveless seem only meant to be heard as another instrument anyway.
It’s a bit amazing to me that a song featuring what can only be described as “noise” as prominently as “Only Shallow” does can nonetheless be so beautiful. It’s as though the powerful, eardrum-filling cacophony that the song leads in with, and which reappears throughout the song, serves as a palate cleanser to better allow the gorgeousness of the vocal portion (verses, if you can think of them that way) to reverberate. Everything else you’ve been hearing prior to the song is washed away, and the relief of the relative quietness of the melody amplifies its beauty. And if you aren’t familiar with the song already, don’t let hearing it on tiny computer speakers be your only experience of it. Find a way to play it through full-sized speakers at whatever volume you can take; doing so magnifies its impact exponentially.