Formed, but not reformed?

My Bloody Valentine's tour points to the pitfalls of a generation's reunion-fueled nostalgia

The long-awaited reunion of My Bloody Valentine may herald another exercise in nostalgia-fueled repetition. The past few years have seen countless underground rock legends re-form for fun and profit. This usually involves an album that approximates the band's trademarks with none of its original freshness (check Mission of Burma's overrated Matador albums), followed by a cash-raking international tour (or, in the case of Pixies, several of them). Thankfully, the re-emergence of Portishead and the Breeders upends this hoary tradition. Both their new efforts — particularly Portishead's Third (Mercury) — radically challenge their respective legacies with brackish, difficult interpretations. It's difficult to hear Portishead's metallic "Machine Gun" and think of their sweetly melancholic classic "Sour Times."

So which My Bloody Valentine will reappear this fall when Kevin Shields and company tour the states for the first time since 1992? The feedback scientists who briefly earned the title of "Loudest Band Ever," or the shaggy shoegazers who fans, including myself, know and adore?

My Bloody Valentine's third album, 1991's Loveless (Sire), was the apotheosis of years of guitar-noise experiments by Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and countless other bands. In retrospect it sounds like the end of an era, arriving just before Nirvana's Nevermind (DGC, 1991) heralded the corporatization of alternative rock. In an August 2008 story for Spin, Simon Reynolds cites dozens of promising, newish bands influenced by Loveless, including Deerhunter, No Age, Silversun Pickups, and a Place to Bury Strangers. He overstates his case: these groups aren't just acolytes of Kevin Shields, but it's Loveless' reputation as a perfect album — from the wispy, dazed vocals of Shields and Bilinda Butcher to Shields' droning guitars that shift ever-so-slightly, yielding one heartbreaking melodic tone after another — that makes it a touchstone for a now-bygone time that continues to fascinate us.

When great bands reunite, they usually choose to exploit their legacies for all they're worth or ignore them entirely. Shields' artistic meanderings — and his fruitless struggle to craft a follow-up to one of the best rock albums of the past two decades — have become the stuff of legend. Even now, with a curatorial assignment for the high-minded music festival All Tomorrow's Parties NYC, followed by seven North American concert dates, My Bloody Valentine has only hinted at a fourth album. If this current tour is a run at the golden oldies — fuck, the band even has an official MySpace page — then it's a tormented one.

Perhaps the inability of Shields to deal with My Bloody Valentine's legacy neatly dovetails with the reunion trend. It's easier to break up and disappear than stick together and, like Sonic Youth, weather the peaks and valleys of artistic creation. Similarly, it's tougher to leave the past behind — thank god that drummer-turned-chef Greg Norton has kept Hüsker Dü from mounting a full-scale reunion — than hit the concert circuit and sing the oldies. Maybe the likes of Portishead and the Breeders point to a third way for My Bloody Valentine — though the tracks posted on its MySpace page suggest this will be unlikely. No matter which path they choose, the future is a mist.


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