Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #87. My Bloody Valentine – “You Made Me Realise”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 5, 2007

Well you might as well commit suicide

My Bloody Valentine really knew how to translate their music into the images that provided their album and single covers. The blinding white-out of Isn’t Anything, the moaning rapture of Tremolo, and of course, the drowned-in-pink guitargasm of Loveless–it’s hard to imagine listening to their albums without those mental images, they get the feeling of the music so right fucking on. You Made Me Realise might be the most literal translation, but it’s also probably the most telling–a pretty young girl lies naked in a field of grass, looking lost in thought of feeling. It seems like an image of near-total bliss, until you realise (sic) that the long blade of grass pointed at her face is actually the blade of a knife, being held to her throat.

The YMMR cover was one of my very favorites for years before I came to this revelation, and once I did, it made me appreciate the cover, and the song, even more. ‘Coz without the knife, the picture is incomplete–even though it’s the bliss-out portion of the picture that most people associate with MBV, and rightfully so, since the music is as rapturous as almost any ever created. But it’s the presence of the knife–the tension, the danger, the near-psychosexual perversion–that gives the best My Bloody Valentine songs their power, that prevents them from floating away on a lighter-than-air bed of pillowy guitars and seductive coos.

You Made Me Realise” is, as I see it at least, the big bang of shoegaze. It existed in various forms before MBV got to it, sure–The Cocteau Twins, JAMC’s “Upside Down,” Spacemen 3’s Perfect Prescription, even parts of Dinosaur Jr.’s early stuff. But it wasn’t until “You Made Me Realise” that all the genre’s hallmarks really came together–the piercing, crashing guitars, the unified bass-drum attack, the boy-girl harmonies and sensual lyrics, and perhaps the most important trademark of all, the feedback-squall bridge. In some ways, the song is just as epochal, and definitely just as exciting, as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Anarchy in the U.K.” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” even if it was only heard by a small fraction of the people.

And even more than those songs, it explodes in its first seconds of existence, the first noticeable thing being just how discordant the thing sounds–angular, out of tune (with each other, if not with themselves) guitars basically just hammering the some two chords, with tinny, razor-thin sounding drums and uncomplimentary bass just adding to the assault. In fact, one of the most striking things about YMMR is that thin, sharp sound, in fierce opposition to the lush soundscapes that MBV would make their name perfecting.

But when the verses kick in, the initial dischord immediately makes sense. Sung by lovers and lead vocalists Belinda Butcher and Kevin Shields, the two’s heavenly harmonies come as gorgeous release from the intro’s onslaught, and even though their voices are distorted to sound just as piercing as the rest of the song, the song is suddenly so sweet that it doesn’t matter at all–you don’t care that the knife is still there, because you’re lost in the grass and the clouds. The vocals are almost totally incomprehensible–you can only really pick up a word or phrase here and there, until the chorus, which consists of the only four words you need to understand to get the song–“you made me realize.”

And then there’s the feedback breakdown. It would be practically obligatory for shoegaze bands only a few years afterwards, but I can’t imagine what it must have sounded like back in 1988 when Sonic Youth were possibly the only rock band that would dare interrupt such a tight groove to just break into atonal, arrhythmic, sheer guitar noise, and even when they did it it sounded nothing like this. It’s enthralling, and still sounds totally mind-melting almost twenty years and countless sonic revolutions later.

But what really makes this song for me is how tight it is. Even with the white noise bridge, the song still clocks in at under four minutes, something that later My Bloody Valentine songs would have real trouble doing. Which reminds me of my original point, and why I’ll always prefer Isn’t Anything to Loveless–sure, the latter is a glorious, seminal and heartcrushing work. But unlike with “You Made Me Realise,” I keep going back to it looking for the knife among the blades of grass, and it just isn’t there–not like this, anyway.

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One Response to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #87. My Bloody Valentine – “You Made Me Realise””

  1. ayon said

    great piece.better analysis than most of all the “academic” writing on mbv circulating the net.
    i never noticed the knife.thanks for pointing it out.
    the live version of you made me realize sounds a lot closer to Loveless than the original.the low frequencies completely pound away on you.the studio version sounds a little might-i-say thin.

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