This is why everybody loves reunions. The bands get to relive past glories, remediate ugly split-ups, and maybe even record some new material. The lucrative paychecks from outdoor festivals probably aren’t bad, either. The fans get the pleasure of seeing their old favorites back together again and attending concerts that are often quite good. And the labels get to do things like “celebrate” by reissuing records that never really disappeared in the first place.
OX 4: The Best of Ride was originally issued in 2001. Rhino is now rolling it out again, with no changes, “to help celebrate the band’s reunion”, according to the label. Apparently, the compilation has been out of print in North America, though it has been readily available on the digital and secondhand markets. Whatever you say, Rhino.
Well, you could say something like, “There’s never been a better time to reassess Ride’s music”. However, that would not be accurate. Ride are in need of no reassessment whatsoever. Since the Oxford band’s split in 1996, the conventional wisdom on them has been pretty straightforward, not to mention accurate. Ride are a classic case of a band that matured rapidly and then rapidly matured too much for their own good. The result is that despite its subtitle and the fact it includes tracks from all of the band’s albums and EPs, OX4 is not the best of Ride.
Since reuniting, even the band themselves have admitted their best work is made up of their first few EPs and first two albums, Nowhere (1990) and Going Blank Again (1992). So if you really wanted the best of Ride, you would look to the newer, deluxe editions of those two albums, which collect the attendant EP tracks as well.
Fully two-thirds of OX4 is made up of material from this period, making it far from a lost cause. You can hear Ride’s progression from fresh-faced, late-adolescent purveyors of ramshackle yet often soaring dreampop/rock to professional, take-no-prisoners hyper-prog band within the course of two years and one album. The noise-coated garage-pop of early tracks “Chelsea Girl” and “Drive Blind” has not aged well. Writers/vocalists/guitarists Mark Gardener and Andy Bell quickly developed a sense of atmosphere and sharper songcraft, though. The charging, euphoric “Like a Daydream” and the wide-eyed, minor-key “Dreams Burn Down” and “Vapour Trail” are among the best indie rock of the era. If anything, the sometimes amateurish musicianship is endearing and authentic.
Many prefer Nowhere for its rougher edges, but the Alan Moulder-produced Going Blank Again was Ride at their most masterful. The epic Cure-meets-Byrds-meets-Who whirlwind of “Leave Them All Behind” is balanced perfectly with the jangly Rickenbacker pop of “Twisterella”. “OX4” itself is probably the ultimate illustration of Ride’s ability to swirl loud guitars and quiet sentiments into an undeniably powerful concoction. A crucial key to that power is the sense of guilelessness with which the songs are delivered. It’s ironic that, for all the times they were called shoegazers for looking down at their effects pedals, Gardener and Bell sing as if their heads are floating blissfully in the clouds.
That guilelessness and bliss are what all but disappeared as Ride became more successful and started to view themselves as a stately band. Transcendence and noise were traded in for tepid psych and classic rock clichés. Carnival of Light (1994) had some pretty nice material, but none of it appears on OX4. Instead, the trudge through the Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel” verges on self-parody. At least “Black Night Crash” from 1996 swansong Tarantula tries to bring back some of the early garage-rock authenticity, even if it doesn’t entirely succeed.
Long-time fans will zero in on their own choices for glaring omissions. That OX4 contains only three tracks from Going Blank Again but four from Carnival of Light, though, tells you all you need to know about its value as a true “best of”. As a career overview or cautionary tale, this collection serves the purpose. But it forces you to relive a downfall that Ride themselves clearly would rather not revisit.