Now and then, a cover comes along that blows the original out of the water. This cover of The Wire’s ‘Map Ref. 41N 93W’ by My Bloody Valentine does just that. In fact, this rendition doesn’t just blow the original out of the water; it explodes it into a thousand tiny pieces and shapes it into something entirely new. Blending Loveless-era textures with unusually prominent and ever-so-lush vocal lines, this soaring rework sees Kevin Shields and company at their most sublime.
While he spent a lifetime smashing it into a glittery pulp, Kevin Shields always had a soft spot for punk. He once recalled listening to The Ramones as a teenager and deciding to dedicate his life to doing one thing really well – just as Joey had done. As a result of this epiphany, Shields’ guitar playing became a form of research, a way of honing in on the unexplored potential of the guitar. Having developed a strumming technique by which he used the whammy bar on his Fender Jazzmaster to create warped undulating textures, he and the rest of My Bloody Valentine set about crafting a series of lush, intoxicating EPs.
In My Bloody Valentine’s debut LP Isn’t Anything, all the characteristics of the group’s era-defining shoegaze sound are present, they’re just not necessarily in the right place. In tracks like ‘Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)’, Shields’ lead vocals are high in the mix, while the lush swirl of his fizz-driven guitar lies somewhere in the background. It’s in this record that the influence of punk groups like The Wire is most apparent. Debbie Googe’s basslines are quietly funky, while Belinda Butcher’s rhythm guitar is angular and oblique – a far cry from the mellow churn of Loveless.
Wire’s ‘Map Ref. 41° N 93° is an exploration of how cartography is used as a form of societal, political and psychological control. In this way, it is the perfect union between post-colonial theory, psychogeography and motoric art-punk. At the same time, it reveals frontman Graham Lewis’ childlike fascination with maps, which he rediscovered when the group were on tour in the states. “On the return daytime flight, the visibility was perfect and I experienced a stunning aerial view of the Rockies and the vast Mid-Western plains,” he began. “This was the inspiration for the first part of the text. I studied Geography at both O & A level and developed a fascination for maps and their reading… On this occasion one was able to read the epic landscape…vast gorges, an incomparable 2D flatness, meandering rivers, levees, oxbow lakes etc….with an unrelenting gridded road system imposed on top).”
Released on Whore: Tribute to Wire, this glimmering 1996 cover was My Bloody Valentine’s last release until the group’s 2013 comeback album MBV. On all fronts, it’s an absolute marvel. Shields and Butcher’s vocal harmonies are perfectly aligned and just high enough in the mix to stand out amid the tremolo-driven guitars churning away in the background. It’s one of the rare occasions where My Bloody Valentine managed to echo the astonishing production on Loveless, no small feat considering it took Shields three years to get right.