Oxford’s dreaming sons erase their ending with an album that is fondly unfamiliar and more rewarding for it.
“A better sense can start again,” sings Mark Gardener on “Lannoy Point", a metronomic meteor spinning tightly along a Korg Poly 61 synth pattern. The song’s lyrics are a rebuttal to the current Brexit-ified social climate in Ride’s native land, one that is mirrored and magnified here in the US. All the same, it’s hard not to imagine at least a tiny trace of self-appraisal in the idea of ‘starting again’ coming as it does on the opening track of Weather Diaries, the band’s first album since Tarantula in 1996.
The temptation to reappraise Tarantula too positively should be thought through before being acted upon, but the reception it met upon its release was particularly ignoble. Its shortcomings were downright reveled in by certain reviewers at certain music weeklies, and it was famously ‘deleted’ by Creation Records shortly after that as if trying to erase it from memory immediately. Given that Ride were splitting up at the time, there wasn’t much incentive for them to come running to its defense. Still, on their 2015 reunion tour, Ride broke out the album’s pounding single “Black Nite Crash”, and rightly so.
Ride came from an era in British popular music where it was natural, if not expected, that a band would switch up its style or turn in a new direction with each album. This hasn’t always matched up with the expectations of American audiences, which have been more in tune with the national predilection for product consistency. Blur finally translated to wider US audiences when they decided to speak our language with “Song 2”, and only then did we agree to start digging backward through their catalog until we reached a point where we can pretend we were all into Parklife the whole time. In Ride’s case, it was their earlier material that made the biggest impression on the American indie consciousness.
This is why those closely timed reunion tours and this year’s even-more-closely timed reunion albums from Ride and Slowdive feel so much a part of the same revitalization. Certainly the bands were friends from nearby towns (Oxford and Reading) and played a number of shows together, and their first EPs and albums are the archetypal sound of shoegaze. Nowhere was as far as Ride took that sonic approximation of tiptoeing atop the dreaming spires of their home. Going Blank Again dialed back the delay and reverb to unveil an ambitious post-shoegaze plan. Carnival of Light then dialed up the ‘60s retro-isms to less success, though it wasn’t without its highlights.
Ride have not picked up where they left off, nor have they pandered and written ten new versions of “Vapour Trail". The first wouldn’t have been much of an option, but neither would the second, really. As individuals, to one degree or another, they never stopped growing as musicians. Before Ride got back together, co-leader Andy Bell had spent more years of his musical career as the bass player in Oasis than in the band he founded. There are passages in Weather Diaries that can allow one to connect with the feeling of Nowhere or Going Blank Again, but Ride haven’t written new music to indulge their past. Much like Slowdive have achieved on their new self-titled album, Gardener, Bell, Steve Queralt and Loz Colbert have found a way forward together that wasn’t available before.
One reason for why Ride may not want to spend much time in the past is because they keep seeing it everywhere they look. “While you were sleeping on it / Your future was thrown from under you / It's not a pretty picture / This is 1932” goes a potent line in “All I Want” that compares the current political situation in the UK to Weimar Germany near its end. The band didn’t make a formal decision to focus on such matters, Bell explained to the NME, it’s that things have become too screwed up to go ignored. To that end, the album’s title track captures the disturbing calm of an unseasonably pleasant day in a world of climate change: “I’m unsettled by the weather / It’s getting stranger / Should it be this good right now / Are we in some kind of danger?”
“Home Is a Feeling” and “Weather Diaries” are a central pair of big, billowing songs to find the familiar Nowhere in -- how good it is to hear those trademark vocal harmonies again -- and “Lateral Alice” is a two-minute-plus basher like “Black Nite Crash” that swaps the Bob Dylan literary love for a dream date with David Foster Wallace. Overall, however, Weather Diaries is often fondly unfamiliar and more rewarding for it. It is wiry and lithe throughout where 20 years prior they might have plodded along. From the strength-to-strength start of “Lannoy Point”, ”Charm Assault” and “All I Want”, to the unspooling closing reflections of “Integration Tape”, “Impermanence”, and “White Sands”, every decision and idea feels thought through.
Whichever model of Ride one is expecting, and however closely Weather Diaries gets to such expectations, they’ve succeeded at moving past the “heritage’ tour stage and have planted their feet on new ground. For now, Ride have amended their own ending, and also left it unwritten.