Monday, October 27, 2008
Going Blank Again
This is more than just a state of mind… As I promised/suspected, this blog endeavor has come off to a slow start. And part of that has to do with time availability and part of that has to do with exactly which album to choose on my inaugural review (a term I use very loosely). Again, this is supposed to (mainly) be a blog about albums that have meant something to me over the years and that the average Joe and Flo aren’t necessarily listening to. Not that it’s all about overly obscure music, but mainly lost and/or forgotten releases that have withstood the test of time but not memory.
And so, based on the little comment exchange between Josh and myself on my first entry, I’ve kept coming back to Ride’s 1992/sophomore effort “Going Blank Again.” For those of you who don’t know, Ride was part of the “shoegaze” movement, a “genre” of music and, yet another, branch of Brit Pop. It was coined by the British music press in the late 80s/early 90s as a way to describe the stage presence of the bands more than any pervasive sound, style or desire to be grouped in with said genre. Other standout examples of shoegaze would be Slowdive, Chapterhouse and My Bloody Valentine. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoegazing)
On Ride’s early singles and debut album (the chaotic yet beautiful “Nowhere”), I’d lump them in with the shoegaze “sound.” But here, on “Going Blank Again,” (GBA) Ride began to branch out a bit and embrace, if ever so slightly, their influences as far as structure and execution go (more on that later). Gone are the hectic, ramshackle drums and the meandering, brittle guitar runs that made “Nowhere” sound like most of the songs would collapse in upon themselves at any moment (not that there’s anything wrong with that). On GBA, the delicacy of “Nowhere” has been replaced by a rush of urgency (as opposed to a gentle wave), accented by chunky hooks, straightforward beats and catchy choruses, making the album an immediate, whimsical and absolutely fulfilling piece of pop gold. And while, depending on my mood, I may prefer the sentimental weavings of “Nowhere,” it (for the most part) can’t provide the one-two punch and instant gratification of GBA.
Not that there’s a lack of emotion here. Critics, even those who are favorable, have often given Ride a bit of a hard time with their lyrics. And perhaps some of them lack a bit of “weight,” but does that make them any less meaningful? Lines like, “Hit him again, he’s crazy,” from “Not Fazed” may not hold the political/social significance of Dylan or the poetry of Morrissey, but they’re not really supposed to. Ultimately, this is still pop music, and Ride knows this. There’s no message, just the music. Plus, to me these words are cryptic enough that they could mean almost anything or absolutely nothing. Are they phonetics simply providing syllables for a vocal melody to follow, or is there a story behind such a line? Is that story a bunch of early twenty-somethings (the age of these guys when this record was made) being rowdy and rambunctious or some disturbing and violent incident that they witnessed or even participated in? Either, neither or something else completely -- it doesn’t matter. These lyrics are sung with a sincerity that, to this listener, sells them outright, makes them completely believable and therefore valid. Plus, I’m a big advocate of the song making the meaning. I initially don’t pay much attention to the words. Instead I listen to the song as a whole, looking for subtle drum hits, guitar runs, fuzzes of noise, and if the music is able to strike me on an emotional level (which this album does in so many ways), then the lyrics behind them suddenly become something profound and significant. An example is the epic, shambling (literally) “Cool Your Boots,” a haunting ache of a song seemingly about that age-old theme, unrequited love/love gone wrong. When a line like, “When I’m printed on your wall, my face won’t change at all, the smile beneath my hair, hangs lifeless in the air,” is delivered with such bittersweet melancholy that you can picture the girl (or boy) from your own life who sent such a pang through your heart, you’ve touched on the point and purpose of music, the emotional connection. And it makes the somewhat awkward (for rock and roll) chorus of, “I’m shuffling away, with nothing much to say,” quite poignant.
And really, the important thing about GBA is the music, including the vocal melodies, regardless of what is (or isn’t) being said. The boys in Ride are proficient players, but they’re not show-offs. They know what to do to take a song where it needs to be. From understated and nearly buried leads to bursts of sonic noise, each note, thud and “oooh” is delivered in a casual, seemingly random way, yet everything falls into place as if completely planned. It’s obvious from the slow build of opener “Leave Them All Behind” that they’re here to make their music and not prove any individual prowess in the process. The proof is in the songs, in the way the band meshes together to form a sound that is their own and yet nods back to previous heroes. With GBA, they took the fuzz and the jangle of their current times, now nearly twenty years ago, and evoked the spirit of the times as many years back and more, the true spark of rock and roll.
Unfortunately it was after this slice of brilliance that Ride lost me. With their next (and final) two albums, they dove headlong into nostalgia, into 60s British Invasion (for us here in the US), all but mimicking the sounds of three decades previous and going so far as to cover The Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel?” (almost verbatim). And, to me, all of this was much to the detriment of the band, weakening their initial sound and purpose. Many folks would (and have) argued that “Carnival of Light” is a logical progression and excellent third album based on what GBA does in its last few tracks (which are, ironically, pretty much my favorite on the album, though for reasons other than where they headed next). And, outside of a couple stray tracks, pretty much everyone was disappointed in the band breaker “Tarantula,” the album that came out just as I was beginning to hear about these guys. Alas, always late for the party.
But it’s up to you, the listener, to explore and decide for yourself.
And, having said that, it makes sense that the band should push forward (while looking back), as I’ve always associated this album with movement and travel. Not so much because of the words/music itself (though admittedly over half the songs like, “Time Machine,” “Chrome Waves,” “Mouse Trap,” “OX4” and the aforementioned “Leave Them All Behind” and “Cool Your Boots,” suggest some semblance of another place or getting from here to there), but because when I first began really listening to this album, when I was right around the same age as they were when they made it, I was working as a courier in a law firm and spent a lot of time driving around town, and this album was one of the top three to always find it’s way in the (at the time) tape deck. This then merged into a trend and later ritual of always listening to it on my to Panama City to see my folks, especially when driving alone, with the stereo at full blast and the seamless flow of the songs propelling me to my destination. And isn’t it quite fitting, for me anyway, that the closing words of the entire album are, “I’m going home….” Yes, I thought so as well.
Now, for your listening, viewing and browsing pleasure…
A BBC session version of the album track “Not Fazed.”
The video for the album single “Twisterella.”
And of course a link to purchase the album. I’ll suggest the 2001 reissue with the excellent b-sides including, oddly enough, the title track and the mesmerizing “Howard Hughes.”