It had to happen, didn’t it? With all of the reunion albums, tours, and retroactively canonizing listicles, we were bound to hit what could be the lowest point in the revival of the original shoegaze bands. Slowdive released a lovely addition to their catalog. My Bloody Valentine dropped a solid album. And both Swervedriver and Lush released new material that, while not their best work, was definitely admirable. Ride tho…
Ride had an initial trajectory that could be called tumultuous, depending on who you ask. The early Ride material was classic shoegaze. In fact, alongside Loveless and Souvlaki, Nowhere is one of the most canonized of all shoegaze albums. At one point, r/shoegaze had a rule that none of those albums could even be brought up without getting permanently banned, such is their ubiquity in discussions of the genre. Most every song on Nowhere and the early EPs was a stone-cold banger: “Vapor Trail,” “Taste,” “Today,” “Like A Daydream,” and on and on. As Mark Gardner once admitted, it’s as if they took The Stone Roses’ first album and smashed it up against My Bloody Valentine just to see what would happen, and lo and behold, it was every bit as good as expected. Its follow up, Going Blank Again, was equally strong: we could hear Ride drifting toward Britpop, which led to fans asserting how it was barely a shoegaze album to begin with. Ride were one of the first of their ilk to make that leap, and it speaks volumes that Andy Bell eventually ended up in Oasis.
As incredible as all of their earlier material is, the music on their final two albums, Carnival of Light and Tarantula, was met with equal derision. And no amount of time or critical distance has improved the outlook on either. Someone once described them to me as the “British Black Crowes,” and if you squint hard enough, it’s actually kind of fitting. The quality of Bell and Gardner’s songwriting took a hard turn for the worse at a time when shoegaze was ending and their bid to be a part of this newer wave of more overt pop bands didn’t land them on the positive critical end of it. Band conflict between these two songwriters ended in acrimony with their own songs occupying opposites sides of the Carnival of Light LP, just before they finally called it a day in 1996, after Gardner failed to contribute more than a single song to Tarantula over creative differences.
Weather Diaries makes attempts to both course correct and update Ride’s sound. “All I Want” showcases an odd skipping vocal line that would have been unthinkable in the old days, while the forlorn-sounding “White Sands” — with its obvious nod to late-era Talk Talk and modern post-rock — is one of the most interesting things here. But new tricks like these can’t save the album from stilted singles like “Charm Assault,” which sounds like a band trying hard and failing to recapture the glory of their early material. Even the cover art to Weather Diaries is a letdown, feeling more like Sigur Rós’ aesthetic (circa 2002 – 2005) than their own.
While Ride were one of the first shoegaze bands to reunite for a tour, they were the last to release new material. Weather Diaries only belies a sense of time-taking when it comes to texture, and it doesn’t exhibit any of the hallmark textures of shoegaze. There’s an attempt here to go back to the relative atmosphere of at least Going Blank Again, but the resulting music ends up sounding like the more reverb-heavy, turn-of-the-millennium British art-rock bands. If the obvious signifiers before were MBV and Stone Roses… well, here it’s probably more like Doves or Elbow. The problem is that even Lost Souls and Asleep In the Back are stronger albums than Weather Diaries.