Out of the big three shoegaze albums, Ride’s 1990 debut Nowhere is generally considered the outlier. When compared to the dreamlike textures of Slowdive’s Souvlaki, or the sheer sonic insanity of Loveless, Ride were sometimes dismissed as fuzzy Britpop.
But they’re indisputably a shoegaze band, and ‘R.I.D.E.’, the opening track on their sixth album (and second post-reunion) This Is Not a Safe Place, is definitely enough to cast aside any doubts. It’s a weird opener, with strangely shifting guitar over a hugely fuzzy bassline and thumping drums, but it pushes aside any doubts.
‘Future Love’, the second track, is close to the classic sound on Nowhere, jangly indie rock melodies with a layer of noise under bright clean guitar. It’s easy to see why this was released as the lead single, with some lovely echoed vocals keeping the music floating along.
‘Repetition’ comes as a surprise, throwing in some dancey Horrors-ian synth pulses over the guitars, which play with a soft-loud approach. If we lived in a weird alternate universe where shoegaze had grown out of disco rather than psychedelia, every song would sound like this one – and that wouldn’t be a bad thing, Ride shaking up styles effortlessly.
At this point, the record is starting to sound like a grab bag of distinct styles, the auditory equal of throwing it all at the wall. ‘Kill Switch’ is harder edged, based around some simple, almost punk drums and a hugely noisy bass that breaks through the siren-like guitar in the chorus. ‘Clouds of Saint Marie’ has the soothing, high voices that only the best shoegazers can pull off (and some sweet ‘na na na na’ breaks in the chorus) over the melodic and bright guitar. ‘Eternal Recurrence’, the centrepiece of the album, is long, slow, and epic, breaking everything down and letting it suck you in.
‘Fifteen Minutes’ swings around the indie pop sound, with occasional squeals of noise to keep the aggression up. ‘Jump Jet’ builds slowly into a (somewhat generic) radio rock tune, the kind that everyone likes but nobody loves. Contrary to its title, ‘Dial Up’ dials everything down, the opening minute being just a distorted sample of speech giving way to solo acoustic before the song rises.
Admittedly, this album isn’t all good, with plenty of the later tracks being forgettable. But the opening half still sets up a good album, and Ride show that they still have the knack for it. There are plenty of newer shoegazers who weren’t born when their early albums were released (I’m younger than the remasters of the first two records), but plenty of them can’t make an album this good. Ride live on, and we’re all glad they do.