Michael Lanigan traces the return of indie legends Ride, via Weather Diaries, their first full length album in over twenty years.
Reunion albums rarely deserve the same scepticism as reunion tours. They are not cash-grabs, unless the artist in question has no concept of how to actually grab cash. In most cases, the artist deserves brownie points of the “fair dues for writing new stuff” sort, although often that is misconstrued for actual quality. What tends to be the major hindrance is the nostalgia factor.
John Lydon’s body of work is a case in point. When he threatened to record new songs with the Sex Pistols in 2011, the idea was about as pointless as a Sex Pistols album in 2011, and about as edgy as Che Guevara perfume (look it up, it’s real). You can’t subvert the mainstream by saying “fuck” on national television anymore. That’s called the Graham Norton Show. Thankfully, the group came to their senses and never made good on that promise. Likely, it dawned one day that they were attempting to revive something, which was never supposed to last in the first place. The Pistols were not a dynamic group. They were exciting, but static and transient.
Such was not the case with Public Image Limited, his follow-up group. PiL contradicted punk, and constantly wiped the slate clean with each successive album. This is PiL made perfect sense for that reason. It did not shy away from being an album about ageing, the group embraced it and that honesty is rare.
The Stone Roses were the same as the Pistols. The Richard Kelly’s of music, again, one of the main problems was that their debut album and early singles were tied inextricably to the acid house movement, the Hacienda and Madchester, all cultural artefacts today. Going on tour was fine, because it was fun, but trying to pretend like Spike Island could happen again was beyond delusional. In the end the lyrics, “If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall” speak volumes. In 2016, that line is as tone deaf as one could possibly imagine.
So it was not exactly promising for Ride’s guitarist Andy Bell to come out and say that the Stone Roses inspired a Ride reunion.
Initially, the concept seemed anathema to their lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Gardener’s attitude. Not unlike Paul Weller, Gardener has always had a tendency to delete from his memory “the hits”, and has always refused to embrace the idea of shoegaze, an idea which has prevented him from going stale. An intriguingly intense character, who seemed less content with nostalgia, more inclined towards guest appearances on the more out-there and polarising Brian Jonestown Massacre records, why he would come around to this offered two possibilities, either he had succumbed to the notion of bringing back the good ol’ days, or he was determined to do something new.
Then I remembered that the once floppy haired indie cherub had a receding hairline, but only occasionally wears a hat. That says a lot about his character. It also sums up why a new Ride record is worth listening to.
Weather Diaries, Ride’s fifth album, is not a reinvention, but a fresh realisation of the group’s potential left unexplored the first time around. It feels more like the actual follow up to their second album Going Blank Again, as opposed the indulgent Americana pomp of Carnival of Light or Tarantula, which is a skid-mark footnote, plain and simple. It is an alternative route to the shaky years. Like groups such as Suede or Madness, it slots perfectly into their canon because they have embraced change and used it to salvage an excellent machine, which was for a period of time abandoned due to damage once assumed irreparable.
Kicking off with ‘Lannoy Point’, which harks back to ‘Leave Them All Behind’, the opener on Going Blank Again, the introduction is a playful way of toying with the listener’s expectations. As we guess at what 2017 Ride might sound like, they flit between varying tempos and ideas all of which suggest the song could literally go any direction. In the space of thirty seconds, each instrument alters the atmosphere drastically before a motorik drum beat creates the cohesion. Followed by their iconic wash of reverb guitars, taken in whole it acts as both an apt representation of classic Ride and an indicator of change, given the growing influence of Krautrock on psychedelic indie in more recent years.
Oftentimes, the sensation of Weather Diaries is akin to your dad telling you that he used to drive you to primary school with a fully loaded revolver in his glove compartment. You are seeing something familiar in a new light. Granted, that is an extreme example to give, but such is the sense one gets when listening to a track like ‘Charm Assault’. Offering up an early-My Bloody Valentine riff with a jangly Echo and the Bunnymen melody, again, it is familiar terrain, but one that turns up the volume on areas previously hidden in the mix. The group are not secret Sonic Youth and No Wave fanatics, but those apparent influences had never been as clear as they are right now.
Such is part of the record’s charm, in how it reshapes old tropes to reveal new potential. The core of its strength is however, the sense that the group never stopped buying the latest records. In fact, they have kept in tune with the evolution of psychedelic music, and not just by using the machine-like bass drum beats popularised by 70’s German rock. The tracks ‘All I Want’ and ‘Silver Rocket Symphony’ illustrate this point.
There is a certain give and take going on here between old and new. Influential to a generation of groups, such as the Horrors, TOY and S.C.U.M., evidently those outfits have had as much of an impact on shaping this album, as Ride had on theirs. It is a healthy cycle, which keeps even the more old school moments fresh, such as ‘Lateral Alice’, an exhilarating case of getting everyone to play the same two chords over and over at deafening volumes a la Spacemen 3.
Healthy is a word that best describes this album. Recently Gardener said himself and Bell spent the past few years sparring in ju-jitsu classes. Again, this is another beautifully symbolic non-musical detail which reflects on the end product. Weather Diaries is a fit record with pristine production, consistently fresh and enticing tracks and a comfort with being older, while not making that its sole selling point.
There is of course some flab. It would not be a Ride album without a few over-indulgent ambient sprawls during the latter half that can last for two or three minutes before anything solid materialises. Such is the case with ‘Integration Tape’. Yet, even those areas can be justified, because they tend to lead into the likes of ‘Rocket Silver Symphony’, which wanders aimlessly for a lifetime before turning into a stellar call and response between Neu! and Spiritualized.
In the end, Weather Diaries is an immensely satisfying play. Fond of the past, but in love with the present, it is true to the group without having to lean too heavily on Nowhere, Going Blank Again, or the urge to rewrite ‘Chelsea Girl’. If anything, it is a similar record to Suede’s Bloodsports, another comeback album that exceeded expectations by correcting past errors, while also managing to create the right balance between what made them good originally, and what grips them now. Nothing is spoiled, and the legacy is bolstered by a new and valuable contribution to the extent that this would be a suitable place to start for any person who wanted to get into Ride. It does not need to be a magnum opus. That is achievement enough.