In many ways, Ride (pictured: the 2014 version) is the archetypal shoegaze band.
Young, all chiselled of cheekbone and tousled of hair, the band sped out of Oxford in the summer of ’88, exiting their teens in the process. Promptly snapped up by Alan McGee’s Creation Records on the strength of their demo tape, the band’s sound – English psych, out-there Sonic Youth adventures and mountains of guitar pedals – seemed to define a fleeting moment in British indie.
It couldn’t last. 1990’s debut album ‘Nowhere’ was followed by top-10 single ‘Leave Them All Behind’, but by the time third album ‘Carnival Of Light’ arrived in 1994 rising tensions threaten to break the band. With Britpop on the rise and Creation’s attentions captured by a certain group of Mancunians, final album ‘Tarantula’ fell on deaf ears.
Reforming after a break of 18 years, Ride retain an adoring following. Representing for many the pioneering spirit that rippled through British rock in the early ’90s, the innocence and angst of their music reeks of youthful promise, record-breaking summers and an attempt to channel rave euphoria into guitar noise.
Here’s where to start.
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The first song from their first EP, this immediately marks out the Ride aesthetic: guitars almost drowning in effects, vocals smeared in reverb and a drummer who would provide the shoegaze scene’s whirlwind answer to Keith Moon. Revelling in pure sound, ‘Chelsea Girl’ seems to strip back the layers of dirt applied by adult life to reveal pure, shimmering youth.
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Delivered in the summer of 1990, Ride’s debut album ‘Nowhere’ remains one of the defining documents of shoegaze. From the cover – endless oceans waves – to this, the final track, ‘Nowhere’ remains a nigh-on perfect example of promise delivered. Opening with a blur of 12-string guitar chords, the simple, romantic songwriting gives way to a string quartet. Utterly of its time, and yet continually surprising.
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Seeming to emerge from the Thames Valley with a new dictionary for British indie, Ride appeared blessed with almost too much material. Releasing a string of EPs – each vital, distinct documents in their own right – ‘Taste’ marked the end of their first, glowing period. Rooted in ’60s psych, its swirling, chiming arpeggios are matched by a swaggering bassline and lyrics that seem perfect but oh so out of reach.
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‘Leave Them All Behind’
In which the shoegaze scores a remarkable top-10 hit. Dragging the band onto Top Of The Pops, ‘Leave Them All Behind’ saw Ride take an eight-minute, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’-inspired epic into the mainstream. A daring, ambitious statement, its sheer chutzpah alone would prove almost impossible to top. With their sudden rise taking its toll, the Oxford group decided that a break was necessary.
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A glowing rush of oxygen, ‘OX4’ was the euphoric end to Ride’s second album. Lacking the concision of their debut, ‘Going Blank Again’ found the band retreating into their live show, with the song lengths creeping up, and up, and up. Four tracks reach out past the five-minute mark, but only lead single ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and this, the dramatic closer, truly deserve such leeway. Rumour has it Liam Gallagher used a snippet of this as his answer phone message during the early ’90s, proving that he was once a man of impeccable taste.
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‘How Does It Feel To Feel’
Ride’s central dynamic essentially veered between the rock classicism of future Oasis guitarist Andy Bell and the experimental whims of Mark Gardener. Third album ‘Carnival Of Light’ brought these tensions to the surface, notably on this cover. A song written by The Creation, released on Creation Records, it was perhaps too obvious a suggestion for its own good. It’s nonetheless a fun, straight-ahead romp from a band increasingly lacking a concise direction.
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‘Black Nite Crash’
With its two leading lights barely on speaking terms, Ride went back into the studio immediately after touring ‘Carnival Of Light’, keen to lay down an album as quickly as possible. Working at a breakneck pace – the final mix-down happened a mere two weeks after the recording desk first lit up – ‘Tarantula’ was constructed. Fundamentally lacking in new ideas, it was marked by Gardener’s relative indifference and Bell’s ongoing Oasis obsession. A chugging bar chord monster akin to their Creation labelmates’ ‘Bring It On Down’, ‘Black Nite Crash’ is the snappy full stop Ride’s flowery, at times obtuse but always riveting sentence deserved.
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Words: Robin Murray
Ride play live dates in May 2015 – details here.