Review Summary: Going Blank Again is one of the great unheralded albums of the 1990s.
By their very nature, musical Year Zeroes don’t come along all that often. If that seems an obvious statement to make, it is nevertheless one worth pointing out in light of our current era, characterized overwhelmingly by a fractured formlessness that makes any coherent ‘scene’ impossible to identify.
I want to talk about 1992, for what it meant and what it didn’t mean and what it should have meant. Of course that year was seismic, because it heralded the release of Nevermind and so birthed grunge and so buried hair metal and so gave a generation a totem pole to hang its aggrieved hat from. Perhaps, perhaps this was the last truly recognisable ‘Year Zero’ in alternative rock nay music. I’d like to think though, fancifully, that God forbid had there been no Nevermind, we would look at 1992 as the year of Ride.
A mere few weeks before Cobain changed the contours of a decade, four kids from Oxford had let loose what should have been one of British music’s defining statements. Ride had come to something near prominence two years previously with the near-flawless Nowhere- the sound of The Jesus and Mary Chain thundering down a particularly precipitious flight of mountains. By 1992 though they had abandoned the shoegaze for a medley of sunnier influences. Leave Them All Behind was the result.
No-one could describe it as a perfect album. For a start it’s far patchier than its predecessor: Not Fazed is an odd and skippable foray into Primal Scream country, whilst Mouse Trap is just entirely unremarkable. But the title track is a gargantuan, sprawling triumph: eight minutes of intermittent flat vocals laid over those characteristic towering interlocking guitars. That’s followed by Twisterella, the tightest and most gloriously bouncy pop song ever produced by four twenty-something who wielded their guitars as melodic bludgeons of death by sound. If I’m making this sound like an album of singles, that’s because it unquestionably is: it’s a play at a deserved wider audience.
Why then did that play fail? Firstly there was that aforementioned unfortunate timing: in addition to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden et al, Ride had to shout to be heard beneath the clamour of the hoary beginnings of Britpop. Secondly, they were never exactly radio-friendly: Leave….., whilst fabulous, is simply too long for any one part to be truly memorable, and that was the lead single! Cool Your Boots samples the dialogue from Withnail and I before it was even cultishly famous and might be most politely described as lyrically lifeless. And that’s point number three: Ride would never amount to great lyricists. Twisterella, which should have shot them to hugeness, has at its centre a repetitive description of an LSD trip.
Then again, for me none of this matters. This will always be my favourite album of imperfect genius, and in a more perfect world it would be more roundly celebrated as such. Surrounded by the hyper-reality of grunge, this was an album to lose yourself in and to. But I can’t help but feel that it should have been the start of something so much bigger.