My Bloody Pre-Valentine: Q&A with Ned Raggett

If you missed the story last weekend about how My Bloody Valentine finally released mbv, their 22-years-in-the-works follow-up to 1991’s Loveless, via a surprise announcement on their website, it’s probably because you were too distracted by Beyoncé and/or the Superbowl, or maybe you have better things to do on your weekends than to sit around following Twitter and Facebook feeds (or maybe you could care less about My Bloody Valentine altogether, and that’s perfectly okay, too). Whatever the case, I’m not going to rehash the entire story here; rather, I’m going to ask critic Ned Raggett to do it for me!

Raggett, who currently writes for Pitchfork and The Quietus, is an unabashed My Bloody Valentine fan. He’s written and chatted extensively over the years about Loveless, which, incidentally, was his desert island pick in the 2007 anthology, Marooned. Not surprisingly, Ned was all over social media last weekend, providing a play-by-play as well as a running colour commentary on the what-is and where-how of the mbv announcement (not in any official capacity; he’s a fan and a critic, not a press agent), and he wrote one of the earliest reviews of the album, too — an on-second-listen track-by-track account at The Quietus.

I asked Ned if he would elaborate on how the events played out on the weekend, as well as to flesh out his own thoughts on the album itself, and he was kind enough to oblige.

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How did the news of the actual release of mbv, on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, I suppose, depending on what time zone you were in) reach you?
News of the actual release would have come through on Saturday afternoon via Facebook as a number of friends began sharing out the FB announcement from the band or their reps. Given the recent off-on chatter and rumors in the previous week, I initially didn’t think TOO much of it, even with what turned out to be perfectly accurate descriptions of what was about to happen. It was only when I visited MBV’s Facebook page a couple more times right when the artwork went up that I realized things were probably about to get serious — though even then, as mentioned in The Quietus review, part of me was still, “Well…”  I’d just been burned too many times before! In retrospect, of course, offering NO announcement whatsoever of it all actually happening until a couple of hours prior was a stroke of genius.


Describe some of the reactions you encountered about this breaking news, from other quarters. Was it all over social media (Twitter, Facebook, et al.)?
Initial reactions to it were limited to what I could see being on Facebook and ILX, though Twitter posts were starting to come along — and while I’m not entirely sure now if it was the case, the fact that #MBV as a hashtag started trending like mad after Pitchfork picked up on the news sure seems related. I wasn’t tracking Tumblr much, just posting on it as I was everywhere else, but it certainly seemed like there was some notice there also. Certainly by the time of the midnight release everything felt pretty jacked up from within my music-centered sphere of the internet.


What kinds of responses have you seen to the album itself? Either in casual social media chatter, or via more conventional reviews.
Responses from friends, in various outlets and elsewhere has generally been content to highly positive, with a few thoughtful negative responses as well — one friend, lucky enough to have heard some recordings back in the 1990s, professed a disappointment in it all after having waited so long, and who could blame him? I’d say, though, that I’ve been taken at how quickly people seem content to really enjoy the album or to lock into specific songs or moments that grab them from the get-go. I think the smartest thoughts are the ones that are taking the album as it is rather than what it was built up in the brain to be — M. Matos’s description to some friends as something that was very enjoyable even or perhaps because the ‘cobwebs of expectation’ were now gone was very telling. I’ve already played it many times myself, letting it settle in and noticing new moments as I go.


I thought it was interesting in your review how you mentioned that you weren’t expecting to be blown away, nor was that something you necessarily even desired at this point. Is that a case of managing your expectations? The simple passage of time? The fact that you’re at a different stage in your life? Please elaborate.
As I’ve told and retold a few times, that stopped-time moment I experienced with “Soon” was so volcanic AND so unexpected that while I was, to put it slightly crudely, chasing that hit more than a few times after that, I’ve since realized it’s more about the moment being unexpected rather than planned for. Ergo, I can’t come to new My Bloody Valentine recordings in particular thinking, “Well I’m going to think about it and it’ll be that same exact feeling all over again” — it just can’t be. I was 19, now I’m almost 42. That’s more than half my life now. If age is part of it, then experience is the better answer, maybe, and my joys encompass so much more than I would have guessed back then. Perhaps it’s just a mix of things, who can say? I’m more taken by the idea that something out there right now could be similarly shattering to a 19 year old right this second, and that it has nothing to do with My Bloody Valentine. So I consciously thought, “Well, let me just… play it. And listen. And I’ll see what I think a little later.” I don’t recall much in the way of concrete thought at all in the first listen.


When you wrote your review, you’d only listened to the thing twice. I presume you’ve listened a few times since — how’s it holding up for you?
As mentioned I’ve heard it quite a few times now and it’s holding up well. So far each day it’s been my ‘morning music’ after I get into work, so that’s a different context — different speakers, etc. — but also a good way to see how it functions in other environments. Riffs and sounds are becoming more familiar and one overriding feeling remains — it feels short. Nine songs really do fly by in this case, it’s quite remarkable. I don’t feel lost in the weeds at all, at any point; endings still take me off guard.


You’ve been cited online in a few places regarding this release, and (due in part to your Marooned entry, though not limited to that) are in general strongly identified with the band, at least among many critics within — well, let’s just say certain circles. How does it feel to be, in a sense, a part of the story around this album? Not to blow it out of proportion or anything, but to many people, “Ned Raggett” is almost synonymous with “My Bloody Valentine.” Thoughts?
Being cited by folks like Ann Powers and Bob Mould [who praised Ned’s TQ review on Facebook — ed.] and so forth — well, that’s terribly, terribly flattering and part of me still doesn’t know how to completely take it. It was all luck of the draw — if [TQ editor] John Doran hadn’t sent an email out to his writers while we were all waiting on Saturday, if I hadn’t written back immediately taking him up on the idea, then my opinion might have been just that — one of many reactions (with many more since, of course). I find it very unusual, in some respects, to be so associated with the band that way — in my mind, I’m still the young guy at UCLA reading a lot about them thanks to work by writers like Simon Reynolds and Simon Price — and if I have that rep, it’s because maybe I can’t let certain things go, or that I get a chance every so often to talk about them on a wide scale. It’s not like the band ever asked me to help them or that I was working with the band or anything so elaborate, and thinking of it any other way beyond happenstance is a poor way around it. I’m certainly touched to think that numerous people were eager to hear my take on it, and I hope that my way of framing what after all were only initial reactions was picked up on.


Does mbv feel like a 2013 release, or like a mid-90s release that never saw the light of day? Does the distinction even matter?
2013 or mid-90s — it doesn’t matter. It seems like both at the same time, and while I’m vaguely interested in the exact details I’m not sweating over them. A couple of friends of mine who are musicians who have recorded in studios and who have a much more careful ear than I for this sort of things have been thrilled by the results, saying that there’s clear evidence of very careful ears at work in the recording and mixing — and then again, other musician friends are more underwhelmed too! It feels like a completed step, without knowledge of how long the step itself actually took.


I’m trying to think of other precedents for this in pop music — where artists left their fans on the hook for years, in anticipation, either in general or for a specific record. The Beach Boys’ Smile might be the first such instance of this, Guns N’ Roses’s Chinese Democacy, obviously. I’m sure there are others. Usually these things end badly or end up meaning absolutely nothing at all. How do you think this one will shake out? If you were to hazard a guess, what do you think fans and critics will be saying about mbv a year from now?
Smile, Chinese Democracy, Dr. Dre’s Detox, whatever the new Avalanches album might be… this’ll fit into that, I’m sure. I’d say this one will become a gentle favorite — and maybe there won’t ever be a new album from them again, who knows? At this point best not to expect anything. But what I mean by gentle favorite can be summed up like this: a musician friend of mine who has always been openly inspired by MBV, and who created some of the only music in that vein that I think rivals Shields for volume, prettiness and sheer sonic violence, said that while he enjoyed it he couldn’t imagine anyone being suddenly inspired by it, to create their own music, that it felt comfortable in that regard. I think that’s a very valid take, though then again we were both talking after just having heard it. Part of me maybe not so secretly wished that Shields’ ear — however sporadic — for what was happening in hip-hop and dance showed more immediate evidence of keeping up with what had been happening — nothing against [drummer] Colm O’Coisoig, of course! He brings his own feeling to the performances very well. But I do think MBV have created an album that people will go back to more than might be guessed, and now that it is here — and freely available to all, thanks to things like the YouTube stream — it can be taken as such. There’s someone out there now who might have just heard of MBV thanks to all the attention, and she or he will be hearing mbv AND the earlier releases all at the same time. What those newer listeners will make of the new album will, I think, be the telling point in the end.

Read Ned Raggett’s social musings on Tumblr and Twitter.

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