Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Number Nine: Ride's Nowhere (1990)

Have you heard of this album? I hadn't until a few years ago. Apparently it was big in England, but then kidney pie is big in England...Let's start with the cover: it's one of my favorites of all time. At first it looked like a photograph of a giant worm trail under blue sand. Then I read the back and found out it's a painting by Warren Bolster called "Wave". The painting suggests immense ego-defying power within utter stillness. Such is the power of Nowhere.

The album sounds a lot like other shoegazing bands. If you're not familiar with that term, it basically means that the songs have almost constant electric guitar distortion, sometimes in chorus with the melodic lead and sometimes as the sole melodic element. Ride are less extreme in their love of distortion than some, but Nowhere is pretty noisy. I once played some Stereolab for a friend who likes contemporary jazz. His response was, "This is decent but it's all crescendo." You could say that about Nowhere and if you don't like that sort of song then this album isn't for you.

I, however, love that endless crescendo. It makes me feel like a superhero. The songs give a sense of incredible power and energy without being forced. Punk and heavy metal, the two "power" genres, rely on literal energy to achieve their sound. The singers yell, the guitarists play really fast, and the drummer smashes his drums. The best shoegazing doesn't have to do that. The music exudes confidence, and the arrogant lyrics often reflect this. The wall of distortion makes everything seem interconnected, with my observant ego validating it all. The closest comparison I can think of is Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones. The muddy production, horns, and overdubbing on that album achieve much the same effect.

"Vapour Trail" sticks out as a track worth special attention. The melody is simple but the guitar keeps shifting slightly in volume, stereo panning, and level of distortion. It's a love song but the lyrical focus is on observation rather than emotion and even starts with a vague insult:

First you look so strong
Then you fade away
The sun will blind my eyes
I love you anyway
Thirsty for your smile
I watch you for a while
You are a vapour trail
In a deep blue sky

Love is linked to disappointment; beauty will let you down. It's just a vapour trail after all, but if the sun shines through it in just the right way, and you're in just the right spot, it's everything.

Nowhere was Ride's first album and their only great album. They're one of those bands that had one good idea (not an original idea, but still a good one) and milked it for all it was worth. Unfortunately, the members of the band thought that their album was good because they were inherently talented people. They were wrong. I listen to Nowhere and lament the fact that there can be no sequel because nothing else quite matches it. My Bloody Valentine can sometimes feel formless. Oasis can often seem too melodically formulaic. With Nowhere, Ride struck the perfect balance between the two.


Little Earl said...

Being downloaded as I speak...

Herr Zrbo said...

...legally I presume.

I've never heard this album but I do have a Cranes (no 'the') album that's in the shoegazing category. I can only listen to a few songs in a row before it starts to drain on my both sonically and emotionally. I can't get through half the album without feeling the overwhelming desire to wear all black (check) and slit my wrists. It's just the music is so dreary. At the end of the day though I do enjoy it.