Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 2)
The golden rule of shoegaze is contrast. You have to offset all that noise somehow. The number one way to do this was the ethereal vocalist, drifting above the maelstrom with clean melodies and good enough lyrics. Ride utilized the aforementioned trick while cleverly flipping the pop dynamic quiet/loud/quiet into loud/REALLY LOUD/loud. Listening to their debut album, Nowhere
, is akin to powering through a vicious snowstorm while the spirits of those frozen in the snow swirl overhead. It’s a mammoth sound, one that might have been touted as the key shoegaze record had Loveless
had not have come the following year and closed the book on the whole genre.
Ride began like so many British bands, inspired by The Smiths. After attending a Smiths performance, Andy Bell felt compelled to start a band of his own. He knew Mark Gardener from his days at the Cheney School in Oxford and met Laurence Colbert at the Oxfordshire School of Art & Design. Steve Queralt was drafted from a local record store. Ride was formed in 1988 and produced a demo tape in Queralts bedroom that found its way to Alan McGee, owner of Creation records, who signed them in 1989.
Singer/guitarist Andy Bell stated to get to Ride you take Isnt Anything
and The Stone Roses
and “go somewhere down the middle”, which basically nails the sound of Nowhere
. While My Bloody Valentine certainly had pop tendencies, they didn’t have pop ambition where The Stone Roses were basically all pop ambition. Ride swiped MBV’s guitar pedals while cribbing the big hooks from The Stone Roses. The result was music catchy enough to sneak onto the pop charts while possessing that atom bomb of distortion, only now that distortion was strategically deployed to emphasize the hooks, not paint over them.
Let us now sing the praises of drummer Laurence Colbert, who sees Bell and Gardener’s twin guitar attack and raises it with his cannon blast kit smashing. After all, it’s Colbert’s wide open hi-hat kicking off “Seagull”, then Steve Queralt’s buoyant bass line, THEN the guitars. Each member was crucial to the bands sound. After all, what would “Dreams Burn Down” be without those titanic two measures of arena leveling drums to start the song?
”Thunder roared and lightening flashed/But you and I are in a different time”
What set lead guitarists Andy Bell and Mark Gardener apart from legions of lace lookers was they were always more interested in what was going on in front of them than below them. Their twin guitar attack was melodic enough to hum along to while a wind tunnel explosion of distortion always waited in the wings. Opener “Seagull” wields twin fighter jet guitar lines screaming in and out of each other before giving way to Bell and Gardener’s tight harmonies. Bell’s vocal melodies were so pretty on songs like “In A Different Place” that he could sell an on-paper clunker like “And we’re smiling/When we’re sleeping” (Is that even possible?).
Everything comes together on twin highlights “Dreams Burn Down” and “Vapor Trail”. The former is an impossibly huge ballad that, in lesser hands, would do fine just twinkling forth on its skyward melody but is interrupted for an epic blast of distortion bulldozing clean through the track that will rattle your windows and instill a deep appreciation for those gentle parts. It’s a tour de force; Bell breathes his lyrics with a sense of quiet awe, as if “lying under sky” was the most all-consumingly important thing happening on planet earth at that particular moment. The latter song, “Vapor Trail”, is just four and a half minutes of uninterrupted beauty. It makes like its title and spirits off into the blue, seeing the album off over the horizon.
Aside from the occasional lyrical blunder (“Polar Bear”) Nowhere
is an airtight showcase for Ride’s strengths. It’s potent mix of hooks ‘n’ fuzz holds as a document of a shoegaze band that was unfairly overshadowed only a year later. But while My Bloody Valentine may have outpaced Ride in critical terms, Ride’s popularity grew with their next release, 92’s excellent Going Blank Again
, which gave Ride its only top 10 single (“Leave Them All Behind”) and top 10 album. One imagines a soild discography forming in the wake of these twin successes but Ride made a sharp right into horribly lame dad rock with 94’s Carnival of Light
(Or “Carnival of ***e
” if you let the band tell it) before whimpering to an end with 96’s Tarantula
, Ride broke up the same year of its release after Gardener walked out of the mixing sessions.
Ride may have blown it, but they left behind two shoegaze classics and a reputation as the only live band in their field that mattered.
Next: “You’re twistin’ my melon, man!