Shoegaze attracted fans because it sounded like the realization of rock’s fondest dreams about itself. Forget what the Ramones and the Beatles sung about—millions of their fans got off on their sound. Tumult as sensual abandon. Noise as release. Bush I-era shoegaze promised immersion in an aural whoosh, its standard bearers offering variants: Slowdive’s shimmering manipulations of echo, the razorblades-in-wind-tunnels of My Bloody Valentine’s string of EPs and Loveless.
The Oxford quartet Ride insisted on bold primary lines, within which whirls of melody assembled from Mark Gardener and Andy Bell’s harmonies and the psychedelic excursions of their guitars lapped against listeners’ faces. Traditionalists on small stages littered with effects pedals, Ride recorded two beloved albums before Britpop demanded primary lines carved with butter knives and colored with beer.
After releasing a 1996 album so dreadful that the band’s label Creation deleted it from its catalog, Ride return with another disappointment, although this judgment suggests that fans expected promising things from a band whose ambitions were freeze dried a quarter century ago. Wooly and long-winded, Weather Diaries gathers eleven rock songs of astonishing vapidity; it has the feel of a term paper printed five minutes before class and forgotten the moment of submission. Not a trace of shoegaze, either: Any British rock group of the last ten years suspicious of concision could have released it.
Ride’s object on Weather Diaries is to record “Vapour Trails” for Dummies. The sweetness of that track, Ride’s most famous and to my ears greatest composition, comes from the band’s finding sonic correlatives for the title conceit; the result is a swirl of beautiful ephemerality. On Weather Diaries, hooks are hard to find beneath the shale-grey textures. Things do get off to a snappy start on “Lannoy Point,” a bauble as graceful as Wish-era Cure. Despite Gardener’s insistence that the track depends on a post-Brexit-vote reality, “Lannoy Point” works best as Ride’s new statement of purpose. As the guitars and synthesizers rise to a pitch, Gardener sings “a better sense to start again,” willing himself to believe it, hoping we believe him. A distorted vocal sample provides the insistent hook for “All I Want,” another track likely to please fans of Going Blank Again, Ride’s best album, a minor classic of melodic noise that Built to Spill imitated for years on these shores.
To expect a sequel to an album released 25 years ago is nonsense, but as Going Blank Again toughened Nowhere’s tangerine dreams (for which producer Alan Moulder deserves some credit), I expected a louder howl from Weather Diaries. A song like “Cali” puts me in a tough position. The arpeggiated electric hook and the rhythm section’s insistent thud are responsible for the album’s sparkliest moments, but the song’s celebration of a pretty girl’s outline against the sun sounds silly coming from men over forty, and at 6:30 it’s longer than LFO’s “Summer Girls.” At any rate, it’s a livelier performance than “White Sands,” which introduces reverb four and a half minutes into its running time to cast off the somnolence.
At the core of shoegaze is a commitment to form so severe that what the songs limn aren’t emotions so much as humors: I love, I hate, I yearn. In the eddies of feedback—indifferent to chords and notions of time—and the swollen keyboard lines, love, hate, and desire churn. Gender dissolves, hence the ease with which female performers have taken to the genre. Ride understood it, perhaps unconsciously: Going Blank Again’s title is the slyest of jokes at shoegaze’s expense. Fussed over in normal contexts, the basics of these song structures lose their polymorphism; what’s left is an embarrassing sentimentality. The thought of an acoustic version of My Bloody Valentine’s “Blown a Wish” is like imagining Drake editing an Adrienne Rich collection. Weather Diaries exposes the dopiness at the heart of the enterprise. Submerge, fellas. Mumble in the mike if you have to.