It’s not Smile, it’s not Detox, and it’s not Half-Life 3. It’s better. And it’s real.

After 21 years of false starts, broken promises, and nervous breakdowns, Kevin Shields has emerged from his reclusive lair, no longer hamstrung by crippling perfectionism: My Bloody Valentine’s third album in as many decades has seen the light of day. And rather than enjoying the sun, the band, true to form, continues to gaze down at their shoes.

I am not a hardcore MBV fan by any measure. I was not one of the 13,491 people to like the band’s Facebook status update last Saturday announcing their return with a simple sentence: “We are preparing to go live with the new album/website this evening.” 

I was not one of the frenzied 40 year-olds desperately refreshing said website only to be denied again and again. I tried only once, stymied by a blank 404 page. The only thing that stood between me and MBV’s legendary return was an internal service error—and the many ravenous fans causing it.

The internet hardly existed when MBV last released an album, in 1991. Hell, I didn’t exist at all! My Bloody Valentine were innovators back then, doing things with guitars no one had imagined before. So the question is, of course, how much catching up do they have to do now?

For context, the band’s second album, “Loveless,” was released two months after “Nevermind.” Whereas Kurt Cobain shot himself after becoming the spokesman for a generation, Kevin Shields retreated into the shadows of his own insecurity after becoming the non-spokesman for a non-generation. Shoegaze was quickly overtaken by grunge and Britpop. We haven’t heard much from Shields and MBV until now.

It’s impossible to talk about this new album (titled “m b v”—two decades and they couldn’t think of a better title) without comparing it to “Loveless”—the perfect embodiment of My Bloody Valentine. But if “Loveless” was the pinnacle of shoegazing as a genre, “m b v” shows where that sound can go after years of digestion. And by golly, it sounds like the band is actually having fun.

The opener, “She Found Now,” is not the brilliant mind-fuck that was the swirling majesty of “Loveless’s” famous starting track, “Only Shallow,” but it doesn’t need to be. “Only Shallow” worked because it defined a sound that everyone wanted—guitar music that no one had heard before—but on “She Found Now,” the band has nothing to prove. They are not rehashing old territory to reclaim lost honor (are you listening, Billy Corgan?), but rather are playing around on their signature sound of layered effects and reverb crunch. “She Found Now” eases its way into your ear with its subtle melodicism as much as “Only Shallow” hits you over the head with its relevance.

My Bloody Valentine tweaks the strange, mechanical, ethereal sound that gave “Loveless” its, well, loveless quality into something a little warmer on “m b v.” “In Another Way” (another apt title) shows how much fun they can have as Colm Ó Cíosóig’s over-the-top rock-star drums ground a rollicking jam against Bilinda Butcher’s most catchy vocal part yet.

In short, “m b v” has all the workings of a My Bloody Valentine album without sounding like a caricature. With any other reunited 1990s band, I might be tempted to cringe at the news of any other release (or gaze in horror, watching the term “Sirvana” being coined live). But My Bloody Valentine possesses the grace not to fall short of anything less than perfect. Here is an album worth waiting 21 years for.