2017 marks Year Four in the Great Shoegaze Reunion cycle, a period that’s produced new material from the genre’s originators that’s ranged from good (Lush’s Blind Spot EP, Swervedriver’s I Wasn’t Born to Lose You) to great (Slowdive’s self-titled outing from earlier this year) to essential (My Bloody Valentine’s long-gestating and revelatory m b v). It also marks the year that the last of those original titans (apologies to Catherine Wheel and The Boo Radleys) break their two-decade silence: Ride, finally, has returned.
Over the course of more than two years of reunion shows that earned glowing reviews in the UK press, the Oxford foursome of Andy Bell, Mark Gardener, Steve Queralt, and Loz Colbert periodically retreated to the residential confines of Vale Studios in their home county to weave together the follow-up to their 1996 misfire (and heretofore swan song), Tarantula. Despite the expectations accrued during the band’s long layoff and those well-received comeback tours, the resulting record, Weather Diaries, isn’t simply a window to the past. Instead, the band updates the components that made them critical favorites (3-D layers of shimmering noise, an ear for melody unrivaled by peers, Colbert’s booming drums) into tools of expression for this particular moment in history.
Part of this update comes via personnel; while the band once again calls in veteran sound engineer Alan Moulder for mixing duties, they hand production to DJ Erol Alkan, who earned his own fame trafficking in electro house remixes of bands from Franz Ferdinand and Justice to The Eurythmics. The other part comes via subject matter; more than any other record in Ride’s catalog, Weather Diaries comes with a clear and present agenda. In interviews with NME about advance singles “Charm Assault” and “All I Want”, Andy Bell and Mark Gardener made no secret of the impact that Britain’s current political turmoil had upon their creative process, with Bell going so far as to say that “the current state of the UK is so terrible that we could not avoid writing about it.”
When these newfound strategies click, the results are fruitful; inspired by Theresa May’s draconian immigration proposals, “All I Want” unfolds into a beguiling warning that could be a time-lost radio transmission from the 1930s. Much of the credit goes to Alkan, whose work on the track manifests itself in obvious (the stuttering, synth-draped vocals that repeat throughout the song) and intricate (the tightly edited drums that maximize Colbert’s pounding effectiveness) ways.
However, for each forward-looking success, there’s a twinge of trial-and-error misstep. Much of the blame lies in the lyrics; while Ride’s newfound commitment to politics is admirable, lines like “We’ll be wiser when we fall/ Like the dinosaurs before” on the humanity-is-rubbish opener “Lannoy Point” and “Your charm assault/ Has scarred the world” on “Charm Assault” call to mind freshman-year bull sessions between poli sci majors and blunt the hard-edged sonics that swim around them.
Ride’s concerns also take on a subtly environmental bend, and that lighter touch serves the music well. The elegiac title track forms the album’s centerpiece and morphs a song about the paranoia of unearned joy into the existential dread that climate change brings to every unseasonably warm day. By its end, the song descends into a swirl of guitars and distortion that recalls the band at the height of their powers. The record’s weather isn’t all stormy; within the borders of “Cali”, summer comes and goes with the wistful power-pop charms of a country not known for its sunshine.
Apart from “Cali,” the back half of “Weather Diaries” lacks the focus found, for better or worse, on the front half. Closer “White Sands” is a notable offender; after the high energy of the rest of the record, the band opts for uncharacteristically spare introspection over a last bit of bomb-throwing in a move that robs the album of its well-earned momentum.
Although its strengths and intricacies become even more apparent with the help of a few extra listens and a decent set of headphones, Weather Diaries likely won’t convert anyone who wasn’t already on the Ride bandwagon. For those who already believe, it represents a promising comeback that, while never fully hitting the marks set for it by time or the band’s own peers, points to even more inventive, invigorated music on a horizon that likely isn’t another two decades away.
Essential Tracks: “All I Want”, “Cali”, and “Weather Diaries”