Official album art for mbv, the long-awaited follow-up to My Bloody Valentine’s classic Loveless.
One of the best music-related essays I’ve read on the internet this year came from a likely source but about a sort of unlikely subject. The Onion‘s A.V. Club knows their audience, and since emo pop flagship act Fall Out Boy announced the end of their three year hiatus last month, the popular arts and entertainment outlet decided they would not be above taking notice.
And why not? As cliché as it is to compare the genre to the pomp and superficiality of ’80s hair metal, there are still substantive differences that lend emo to worthwhile aesthetic discussion. Mainly, where hair metal is best remembered for their innovative-to-derivative guitar acrobats, emo will most certainly be remembered for its relative spectrum of wordsmiths.
In fact, I still patiently await (though probably in vain) for the day that the Pitchfork or AllMusic staff shouts out Deja Entendu on some future Best Albums list. If we’re sticking with our hair metal analogy – and boy could it not be more misplaced here – I’d argue Deja ages everyday with undeniable artistic value as much as Van Halen’s debut or Appetite for Destruction ever did. And if Weezer’s Pinkerton could find critical love before its ten-year anniversary, not to mention inspire much of the very music in question, there’s got to be hope for Jesse Lacey too, right?
So yes, the return of Pete Wentz to relevancy qualifies for celebration as much as Axl Rose’s perfectionism does for corporate magazine psycho-analysis. However, Wentz’s band was not so much the focus of this well-executed A.V. Club essay as much as it was a creatively chosen vehicle for a much more invigorating conversation about pop at large: is it time to revisit our definitions of “hiatus?”
First, a highlight:
The problem is that the world demands binaries: on/off. Together/broken up. It wants periods, not semi-colons. When bands try to force some middle ground, they end up in skeptical quotation marks: Fugazi is on “indefinite hiatus.”
In reading the rest, my mind immediately gravitated toward two of the biggest stories in independent music from the last few months about two bands who were mysteriously left without mention in the essay. That being, the return of GodspeedYou!BlackEmperor and the release of My Bloody Valentine’s much mythologized follow-up to their 1991 shoegazing classic, Loveless, earlier in 2013.
Of course, the respective breakups for these two hallmark acts of ’90s contrast a great deal, but what their revivals have in common (as well as Fall Out Boy’s return as well, strangely enough) is enough to highlight what should become dogma for bands considering parading under their old aliases: If you’re going to come back, have a new record worth listening to in tow.
You don’t have to read Mark Richardson’s takes on either Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! or mbv to grasp their power. In fact, what’s most remarkable about each is how easily both records fit in with larger legacies that should otherwise be impenetrable, or at the very least, beyond the capacities of mere mortals to simply step back into so effortlessly.
The labors Kevin Shields endured to make Loveless, let alone its long-awaited sibling, is in no need of repeating. For a Scottish introvert (to put it mildly), the nearly endless comparisons by critics between him and Brian Wilson almost seemed to doom his effort to make any follow-up to a Smile-like exile. Which is what made it such a relief that mbv came to us with almost none of what made the 2004 remake of Smile (which is often syntactically presented as ‘SMiLE’) anticlimactic for some. Meaning, it helped that there was no more grandstanding nor celebratory gesture on behalf of a famously humble quartet than what would qualify as an email reminder – the band simply announced on their website that they were ready to release their new record.
By comparison, Godspeed’s announcement wasn’t much louder, but the fact that the band was doing anything at all made their return so surprising. After all, their breakup wasn’t exactly the cleanest.
Which brings me to a brief disclaimer – I was by no means a devotee of either Godspeed or MBV during their respective heydays. In fact, I gravitated towards their music as a salvation from the Fall Out Boy crowds of college and high school. I’m sure most attempting to pose as an expert on either band’s history would not want to mention this, but I think this represents a great portion of the audience that went out of their way to download these new records.
All due respect to Mark Richardson and others of his age who remember the exact days that Loveless or Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven dropped and whose excitement about these new releases I don’t think I or these new fans could truly grasp, even if we love these records just as much. Yet, I can’t help feeling that in a certain way Allelujah! and mbv could grow to mean more for me and other younger fans than it does for them.
For so long, we’ve loved these bands purely as totems, as stolid and immobile yet ingratiating as secret histories can be. And suddenly, their creative arches have come alive again to become just as much apart of our lives as the flavor-of-the-week bandcamp we’ve found in a blog yesterday. It’s an experience we’ll never have with living things, otherwise funerals would be a lot more interesting. It’s only an added bonus that, well, the music is at the very least comparable to their legend, if not actually good enough to exceed any titanic expectations therein.
This was the way I eventually came to feel about SMiLE. Pet Sounds was something that belonged to my parents, and like anything worth becoming an heirloom, something they gave me to enhance my childhood. But disastrous fates, it seemed, had saved such a daring, brilliant, and humbling attempt to succeed what nearly everyone deems perfect – albeit in the form of what sounded like a delusional old man in charge of an abandoned carnival – just for me. It became as much a part of my young life as, well, being surrounded by Fall Out Boy.
Except, you know, it was exceptional. (In fact over time, the whole delusional carnival aspect grew to be a huge reason why I loved SMiLE so much.)
So as absurd as the juxtaposition is, thinking of this has me sort of wondering what it’s like to be a freshman in high school right now who has some interest in this band Fall Out Boy, why they’ve returned, and what they think they have to say to a post-iPad world. And I’ll give the band credit, every last bit of their fleeting creative indulgences (homages to Quincy Jones, orchestral accompaniments that didn’t amplify their arrogance, Elvis Costello cameos, etc.) have kept me entertained enough to call their product art, and art worth being interested in, at that.
In fact, their new single sounds a bit more than tolerable to my ears. Perhaps Wentz & Co. deserve even more credit for being able to pull off what not even the A.V. Club could give them due diligence for: not just being an interesting subject with which to deconstruct the art of the comeback, but an example of how to do it right.
After all, considering the less than tactful reprises of far more acclaimed artists in the past, let’s appreciate exceptional and uncommon achievement of only deciding to return to the stage because you’re convinced wholeheartedly that you have something new and vital to say.
I’m looking at you, Frank Black and Kim Deal.