Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (most) Sundays. Enjoy!
Albums I Have Loved – Ride: Nowhere
I often find myself ranting to bystanders about some obscure record or other that I feel like they should listen to. I thought it might make a fun feature for this little corner of the blog to talk about the music I’ve been passionate about. So this is a new one, I’m going to talk about the albums I love and have loved and why I do. They may not be the best, but they’re ones that I’ve loved in my life and why. Please remember that the opinions are all my own but also that I welcome feedback in the comments section.
The early 90s was a funny old time for Indie music. The Smiths and the Cure had ruled the 80s but the Smiths were gone and the Cure was massive. Of course, the American scene was on fire but the story on our side of the channel was less positive. The ‘second summer of love’ had been and gone in Manchester and while the Happy Mondays released Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches in 1990, by then the Stone Roses were already embroiled in the contractual war that would see them dormant until 1994.
It would not be until 1994 and the advent of Oasis that a scene would form again dominated by the thoughts and feelings of what it really meant to be British. That scene spawned a lot of great records, from Blur’s intellectual studies of the true essence of Englishness through to Oasis and their crystallisation of how it really felt to live on our little island but it also did a lot of damage. All too many bands saw that they could achieve success by ditching complex melody and instead working on 3 chord songs with catchy couplets, bands that could have been great in their own right if they’d stayed their course. Along with The Verve, Ride were one of those bands that gave up greatness so willingly.
But not in 1990. In 1990 Ride released their debut album, Nowhere (affiliate link), to a world that was not ready to hear shoegaze taken to its psychedelic and scintillating conclusion but hear it we did, and some of us were staggered.
I was 13 when I first heard Nowhere, my dad had borrowed the LP from our local library and we had a tape with Leisure by Blur on one side and Nowhere on the other. As a huge fan of ‘There’s No Other Way’ I don’t mind admitting I was most excited to hear Leisure but that was before I let the other side play and heard Nowhere opener Seagull scorching out of the speakers of my ghetto blaster. A sly, enticing baseline dives head long into a wall of guitars jangling from left to right atop a drum beat like the grooviest machine gun you ever heard. Seagull sets out Ride’s stall to perfection, they are the masters of crescendo. Most bands will build to a point in a song and be happy just with that. Ride take pleasure in taking the listener back and forth to the peaks of the song, inserting short pauses for you catch breath before powering on again. The wall of sound is so complete and towering that listening to Seagull is a draining experience, but a rewarding one.
Coming out of an era where music was a means of either justifying men with perms or delivering a heartfelt political message, the raw hedonistic psychaelia of Ride was a shock to the system. Yes, they came out of shoegaze, a genre with psychadelic leanings, but Ride never looked at their shoes, they looked at the stars.
No sooner has Seagull ended than Kaleidoscope comes flowing out, lithe and playful in its opening riff before pointing itself forward and engaging full engine power in another blistering cut. Normally, when people say ‘blistering’ in regard to music they’re referring to a dude with long hair playing guitar really quickly and pointlessly. That is not blistering, blistering is the pace set by Loz Colbert’s drums and Steve Querault’s bass take us in Kaleidoscope. Again, the mastery of the crescendo plays out across the song with breaks so fleeting that they serve only to give you the energy to accompany the reverb drenched guitars to the next emotional level.
By the time we get to track 3, In a Different Place, we need some respite and we get it. The drums wind back on the tempo and the wall of sound is restricted to the chorus. The dynamics show that Ride aren’t a one trick pony, they can write a ballad as well as face melting journeys into space.
The album ebbs and flows from the leaden, Salinger sampling Polar Bear through to the sublime drones of Dreams Burn Down each song capable of transporting you if you give yourself over to it.
What captivates me about Nowhere, aside from what I’ve already mentioned is the sheer immensity of the sound they produce. Yes, they’re a two guitar band with both Andy Bell and Mark Gardener playing but even still, it’s monstrous with an aural tsunami that knocks you flat but with each individual instrument perfectly audible. Having never seen them live I can’t say if this is down to the band themselves or the magical hands of Alan Moulder who mixed the record, in any even, it’s an awe inspiring sound that manages to be near omnipotent and fragile in the same moment.
As an album released when fitting on two sides of a record was still important, Nowhere is short at 8 tracks but it’s a complete experience. The tracks themselves and the album as a whole pull you into the softly swaying world of Ride, like a river winding sinuously round rocks, smashing over a waterfall or simply flowing, Nowhere is a complete experience. That experience ends with Vapour Trail, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life. Both heartening and melancholy at the same time, a story of unattainable, impermanent love and why neither of those things alters a desire to pursue that love. In two short verses, Vapour Trail says a huge amount, haiku like in its compact perfection. Gone are driving beats and towers of squalling guitars and in place simple, sparse melody and a string quartet. It’s a near perfect song. In fact, over my life I’ve experienced a number of perfect moments and one these was sitting in my friend Jim’s lounge watching the Sunday morning sunlight stream in through slatted blinds, picking up the motes of dust in the air as Vapour Trail played on gently in the background.
Sublime, in no time at all though everyone decided to be Oasis and stopped making records like this, but as long as we have records like Nowhere I don’t really mind.