If you think about “shoegaze” music in the 21st century, it is most likely because the genre is enjoying something it had for maybe 36 hours or so during its initial peak in the early 1990s. That is, buzz. This buzz is mainly due to the handful of original prime movers that have reformed and/or released new material over the last decade or so.
Swervedriver and Chapterhouse were first out of the gate, followed by Slowdive, Ride and, most recently, Lush. All the aforementioned bands are featured on Still in a Dream 1988-1995: A Story of Shoegaze. The article in that subtitle is worth taking note of. Rather than the definitive “The”, the folks at Cherry Red have decided to go with the indefinite “A”. The implication is of deference or diplomacy. This is just one history of shoegaze; it is not necessarily the last word on the subject.
More specifically, the story of shoegaze presented in Still in a Dream is the one that requires five discs and 87 tracks by 87 different bands to tell. 87 bands! And here you thought shoegaze was just the bands on Creation Records that weren’t Oasis and the bands on 4AD that weren’t the Pixies. Boy, were you wrong!
Or were you? Still in a Dream is the rare example of “alternative”-era record label Darwinism turning out to be pretty right on. The bands you think of when you think of shoegaze are the ones that got higher-profile promotion and/or major-label distribution. And those were pretty much all the shoegaze bands that were worth it. Ride, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Lush, Spritualized, and Curve on the gauzy side, and Swervedriver and Catherine Wheel doing a little more rockin’ out.
Still in a Dream aims to go deeper, but there really isn’t anywhere to go. Were you scouring the used bins for that one hard-to-find track by See See Rider, or the one from the Honey Smugglers? No? Well, are they “lost classics”, then? No, they are not. There are a few under-appreciated classics here, for sure, from bands you nonetheless would have heard plenty about had you been a religious NME reader back in the day. The Telescopes’ “Precious Little” stop-starts a’la the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” before treating you to some swirling, badass chords. Pale Saints’ “Sight of You” is what might have happened had New Order written an actual, sincere love song with lyrics about feeling blue and wondering when things will be “back the way they were before”. Significantly, both these tracks appear on Disc 1, which servers more as a “primer” featuring bands that influenced the shoegaze scene that was to come. It’s nice to see the likes of Galaxie 500 and Kitchens of Distinction get their due alongside the redoubtable Cocteau Twins. The Cure and early Psychedelic Furs are conspicuous by their absences, however. Were the Jesus & Mary Chain proto-shoegaze? Still in a Dream thinks so, and thus in addition to the Mary Chain themselves, you get a bunch of resultant bands that sound like them.
And that, you realize, is how the producers of Still in a Dream have assembled a five-disc boxset when, say, two discs probably would have been more than enough. They have expanded their definition of “shoegaze” to include most any indie/alternative music of the early ‘90s that was British or European but was not techno or “Madchester” stuff. Well, actually, the Dylans’ tre Madchester “Godlike” does sneak in. You also get the psyched-out trance-rock of Spacemen 3 and their various offshoots, which is admittedly spacy. But the likes of Velocity Girl, the Sunflowers, and the Belltower are indie pop that happens to use the odd distortion pedal. Not unpleasant, but only marginally part of the story, if that.
By the last couple discs, you have bands like Blind Mr. Jones which are rehashes of the “classic” sound of Slowdive et al, but with a flute because, well… who knows? And you have bands like Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev being pulled in, just to get some Americans on the roster, apparently. It is good to see nearly-men like Majesty Crush, from Detroit. Where, though, is the representation of the mid-‘90s mini-revival in Minneapolis, whose Colfax Abbey, for example, were the rare Stateside band to match the Brits in cathartic phasing effects?
What else can you take from this story? Well, the original shoegazers were also called “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”. That was because the bands went to each other’s gigs. On the evidence of Still in a Dream, though, they did so just because they all shared the same drummer. Also, the physical package is solid and pretty, and someone dug up mini histories of all those bands not even John Peel knew ever existed. If you’re feeling generous, the Drop Nineteens and maybe even Moose should have been a little bigger. Chapterhouse’s “Falling Down” and Adorable’s “Sunshine Smile” are great singles that transcend any genre label. Slowdive’s “Slowdive” is a great single that does not.
One more thing. My Bloody Valentine are mentioned about a thousand times in the liner notes, but all 87 tracks pass by without them. And Still in a Dream survives. Make of that what you will.