English band reflects on career with new reissue and material
The “shoegaze” genre has always been hard to define in a general sense. Chock full of lush instrumentation and fledgling guitar experiments, it pushes music nerds to induct key acts like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive into their list of essentials. But the movement’s first generation, which experienced its peak during my infancy years ago, was extremely diverse. It can be a hassle to pin down what makes a band part of the genre aside from excessive yet endearing use of reverb.
But as one of the scene’s leading acts, the credibility of sensible four-piece Ride was never questioned. Formed in Oxford during the late 1980s, the band’s place on the Creation label — signers of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oasis and Saint Etienne — and the release of their debut album “Nowhere” certified them as up-and-comers. Their second album “Going Blank Again” avoided becoming an ill-fated statistic of the sophomore slump and only gave them more success. But as music’s focus shifted into what we know as “brit pop,” the band struggled with their own material and eventually dissolved with the release of their final album in 1996.
Like its predecessor, “Going Blank Again” has received the reissue treatment. But unlike youth who merely settled for it after being blinded by Ride’s initial success, I believe the album deserves its unique foray into deluxe packaging and expanded release territory.
“Going Blank Again” does depart slightly from earlier material, which serves as a reflection of singer-guitarist Andy Bell’s need to evolve. Bands of the genre who saw commercial success were poppier in nature, incorporating influences from previously big names instead of using abstraction to lure in exclusive devotees. But Bell was hardly a slave to the scene as well, refraining from producing press-friendly shoegaze schlock. That is why the band insisted on making “Leave Them All Behind,” the album’s staggering 8-minute opener, the lead single for radio play.
Sprawling guitar work and a gradual descent into grandiosity, “Leave Them All Behind” seems designed to pull shoegaze fans into a different corner. Instead of continuing with “Nowhere’s” illusory trend, Ride takes on the persona of a better and more innovative version of Oasis (who, coincidentally, Bell joined as bassist following Ride’s break-up). The song structures seem flatly standard but the addition of less-conventional instruments, such as the noodling organ on “Not Fazed,” serves as an ode to the band’s longing for diversity. Even “Time of Her Time,” the record’s sixth track, is eclectic enough to include the influence of late punk legend Joe Strummer, whose raspy vocals are channeled by Bell as he chronicles an empty love affair.
But an album’s worth of these successful incursions does not mean Ride left behind their shoegaze sound completely, as later tracks spiral into sonic speculation with vibrant distortion. “Mousetrap” particularly eases any temporary doubts about the band forgetting its root or sole fanbase; though not as orchestral or outwardly lush as “Nowhere” material, it still retains a sense of spaceyness that’s capable of transporting the listener beyond the album itself. This trend continues into the conclusion of “Going Blank Again,” a lengthy number by the name of “OX4” that wraps up loose ends while merely hinting at what became Ride’s succeeding output.
As for the reissue itself, casual fans will be happy with the digital remaster of the original album as well as 4 additional b-sides from other EPs. The packaging itself is also alluring, with all contents sealed in a canvas-style hardback case. But the two most rewarding aspects come with years of diehard longing and eventual discovery.
After a lengthy period of tracking down original master mixes, Ride and producer Alan Moulder have released the band’s only DVD: a live performance from Brixton at the height of their “Going Blank Again” tour. Album tracks are interspersed with singles from “Nowhere” as well as an eye-opening cover of “Chelsea Girl” as an ode to deceased icon Nico. The quality is surprisingly fresh for being derived from basement tapes and aims to surpass expectations of those who formerly anticipated an inferior bootleg copy.
The other bonus is a glossy 36-page booklet containing rare/unseen photos as well as a new collection of liner notes. The latter, compiled by journalist Joe Clay, was drawn from interviews with Moulder, Bell and other band members to obtain further insight into Ride’s sophomore album as well as their short-but-worthwhile career — definitely a must-have for a Ride devotee or, if you’re like me, a fiend for impressive packaging.
Perks or not, the idea to keep in mind regarding “Going Blank Again” is its lack of dated sounds. While representative of a great era in music, many of the band’s former colleagues delivered material only suitable for the burgeoning alt-rock scene of the early 1990s. Through immense pressure the band delivered a relic for future generations and in changing it up, Ride achieved one concept upon which reissues are supposed to be based: timelessness.