SOMETIMES, especially when an act's catalogue is relatively sparse, one album so dominates it that other outstanding releases, whose quality many decent artists spend entire careers trying to emulate, find themselves overlooked. Irish noise/dreampop/shoegaze/bliss rockers My Bloody Valentine are a good example of this.
Their nitpicking perfectionism almost bankrupted the record label. But their 1991 album, Loveless, stands as such a beacon of sonic possibility, and the still unrequited anticipation for a successor is so acutely felt even two decades later, that responses to the band tend to be informed entirely by the fact that an outfit capable of such effulgent brilliance has been silent ever since. Yet quite a few trustworthy commentators appear to prefer its predecessor, 1988's Isn't Anything, a position I never properly understood, until now.
This year's reissue of the two albums, following what seemed like aeons of postponed promises, along with a collection of EPs and rarities associated with them, has meant there's now every opportunity to listen in sequence, in full and in hindsight, and no compelling excuse not to. It's all carefully remastered, of course, though I haven't yet made the kind of meticulous comparison that Loveless's two separate versions, the one "remastered from original tape" and the other "mastered from original half-inch analogue tapes", suggest that My Bloody Valentine leader Kevin Shields expects from us.
My Bloody Valentine was a real band, certainly, with each of Debbie Googe, Colm Ó Ciosóig and particularly affecting co-vocalist and effective co-guitarist Bilinda Butcher playing their part. But it was Shields's band, and it existed principally, if not entirely, for the purpose of translating his musical vision.
What is both noticeable and noteworthy, comparison or no comparison, is that Isn't Anything, which I confess I previously regarded as not much more than a rough blueprint for Loveless (not that that wouldn't be enough for most bands I can think of) appears, if anything, to have grown considerably in, rather than despite, this exalted company.
Somehow simultaneous reissue often seems to require the listener to approach records in a different way and I have found other reissue programmes resulting in a total rethink of a hitherto under-appreciated album largely because I found myself reconsidering it in the company of something I had always known was great.
You could conveniently, and by no means inaccurately, say My Bloody Valentine were still singing songs on Isn't Anything. The glide guitar tumult that eventually defined the band - a combination of tightly controlled and tuneful white noise, as if industrial strength vacuum cleaners could play aching melodies, wounded animal roar and hazily, woozily psychedelic spaceship whoosh - still allowed a certain amount of jangle to peek through. In fact, there's a brief moment of funk in the bass intro to the aptly titled Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside) and a ringing acoustic strum coaxes Lose My Breath along. But, where most songs are characterised by words and meaning, these, in a male/female vocal combination that is so compatible it's almost interchangeable, are more about sound and emotion.
Sonic Youth was a clear conceptual touchstone for the approach it adopted towards the guitar, but that they are quite often reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr has less to do with the volume of the guitars than the way Shields phrases his vocals. At least once Butcher's singing calls to mind the Nico-era Velvet Underground if the Beatles had been writing for them, but the bubblegum melody encased in earsplitting din comparisons with the Jesus and Mary Chain don't stack up at all anymore. Indeed, by the time Isn't Anything is over the band has quite firmly established a sound of its own, one that Loveless then took to a new and apparently unrepeatable level.