Apart from a crisp four-count that gets your attention without giving away the furry brutality of what’s to come, not much of Only Shallow is clear; obfuscation is everywhere. A lot of what you hear isn’t what you think it is. A lot of what you think you hear isn’t even there: unlike the effects-pedal laden output of many of his contemporaries, Kevin Shields’ sounds were more likely to come from some innovative tremolo and studio work. Describing the guitar sound on Only Shallow in 1992, Shields said:
that’s just two amps facing each other, with tremolo. And the tremolo on each amp is set to a different rate. There’s a mike between the two amps. I did a couple of overdubs of that, then I reversed it and played it backwards into a sampler. I put them on top of each other so they kind of merged in.
Add in Shields’ glide guitar technique and the outcome is the glorious racket that you hear on Only Shallow.
Loveless cost a reputed quarter of a million pounds to create, requiring 19 studios and countless engineers none of whom were good enough for Shields; with all that expense you can but admire his insistence on the purity of recording in mono, willfully using fewer tracks for guitar parts than you would expect, and creating something so single-minded and iconic.