Inspired by the Manchester rave scene, Oxford-to-London art-school quartet Ride — Mark Gardener (vocals/rhythm guitar), Andy Bell (vocals/lead guitar), Steve Queralt (bass) and Laurence “Loz” Colbert (drums) — began in 1988, laying washes of noise guitar and ethereally reverbed vocals over shuffling dance beats. The tentative first EP leads off with an original entitled “Chelsea Girl” and follows it with three similar long noise-pop creations, the best of which is “Close My Eyes.” The more distinctive Play has a louder, harder sound (converting the previous record’s jagged squalls into a continuous thick gauze) and, on the exemplary “Like a Daydream,” rich folk-rock harmonies. The two EPs, which contain too much filler to make it a completely safe venture, were combined as the eight-song Smile, Ride’s awkward introduction to America.
Nowhere, Ride’s first proper album, has all the band’s essential ingredients in place, but the songs meander and drift where they need focus and clarity. The production is all delicious shoegaze-guitar-fuzz-echo, but beyond the ambling “Dreams Burn Down,” the magnificent “Vapour Trail” (take that Cocteau Twins!) and “Taste” (and you, Stones Roses!), the album is a triumph of texture over content.
Alan Moulder, who mixed Nowhere, co-produced Going Blank Again With Ride, and it’s a night-into-day improvement. The sound is clear and bright, the songs fully formed and briskly propelled — melodies traverse a reasonable part of the scale and the arrangements (helpfully marbled with uncredited keyboards) repeal the previous album’s genial chaos with the kindness of coordinated displays. Lyrics remain a weakness, but amount to a minor inadequacy on this appealing platter. Given the music’s trend-riding aspect, Ride still come off like kid brothers tugging at the big bands’ stylistic sleeves, but the evidence here of growing confidence and songwriting skill (check out “Leave Them All Behind,” “Time of Her Time” and “Cool Your Boots,” which begins, intriguingly enough, with a line of dialogue from Withnail & I) puts maturity within reach.
Alas, Carnival of Light grabs at it too firmly; the handsome album is a stylishly tepid bore. John Leckie is responsible for the mild overproduction: the school choir on “I Don’t Know Where It Comes From,” Beatlesque cellos and sitar effects on the instrumental “Rolling Thunder” and Deep Purple organist Jon Lord’s guest extravagances are a bit much for such an essentially simple band. Significantly, the record ends Ride’s reliance on guitar textures, relegating deep-pile sensuality to a part- time hobby via Bell’s keyboard competence. “Birdman” gets up a good head of steam and compares favorably to the last album’s best tracks, but the Lord-churned “Moonlight Medicine,” at nearly seven minutes, is stretched beyond the elastic potential of such a slight composition. Ride finds its most solid groove in the Creation’s 1967 classic, “How Does It Feel to Feel?,” which — guided by initial producer George Drakoulias — receives the full neo- psychedelic rave-beat treatment and emerges a slow, woozy hangover of compelling sonic muzz. Otherwise, the instrumentation doesn’t really serve the vocals, and several songs feel like the work of two competing factions.
Ironically, it’s on the in-concert Live Light — a ten-song career cross-section performed before an appreciative audience — that Ride manages a truly satisfying album. Away from the studio, the quartet puts some real thought into the playing and the singing, varying the attack with power and delicacy. Songs like “Chelsea Girl,” “Close My Eyes” “Seagull,” “Leave Them All Behind” and “Only Now” receive the treatment they deserve, pulling the group across a thermometer full of emotional temperatures in settings that stress guitar and dynamics. While the older songs are improved in more capable hands, the newer songs aren’t picked spare by fussy technique.
Sailing off into the career sunset, Ride ended its backwards run with just the kind of direct, unpretentious and easily likable guitar-pop album it always needed to make. Displaying maximum melodies and a minimum of distractions, the sensually rich Tarantula strips Ride back down to its roots and winds up sounding like a young Teenage Fanclub with more ideas and a different accent. Also the title track of an otherwise non-LP British EP, “Black Nite Crash” opens a solid chunk of fuzzy punk- pop decadence (“See the girls coughing, looking underfed/When they go to sleep they dream of being dead”); other than a little rhythmic variety (the Steppenwolf chords of “The Dawn Patrol” stand on a mild dance beat) and the Doorsy electric piano of “Ride the Wind,” the album is relaxed and subtle, a stark contrast to Ride’s previous try- too-hard missteps. Abutting the acoustic sparsity of “Castle on the Hill” (a tender ballad that could well be about the personal problems overcome by Creation creator Alan McGee) and the roaringly tuneful “Gonna Be Alright” is no hardship; for a change, both songs feel like the results of a single collected mind. With that, the band broke up.
OX4 is a three-CD box set; The Best of Ride, issued a week later, is a mighty single-disc summary of the band’s brilliant career. The American edition slaps on a bonus disc of four unreleased tracks.