Over the past few years, the leading lights of the shoe gazing scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s have been steadily returning to the fold. Just like the first time around, My Bloody Valentine were the pioneers, and while 2013’s m b v wasn’t quite up to the standards of their remarkable early work, it was certainly a welcome comeback. Earlier this year, Slowdive’s first album in 22 years emerged and surprised everyone by being arguably the best record of their career. And now, after a similar two decades plus hiatus, it’s the turn of the third member of shoe gaze’s most enduring triumvirate, Ride, to re-enter the musical fray with their new release Weather Diaries.
Singer Mark Gardener’s boyish good looks and the band’s knack for fusing soaring melodies to epic guitar soundscapes always marked Ride out as the most accessible and chart-friendly of the shoe gazers. Their early EPs and first album proper, 1990’s Nowhere, are widely regarded as second only to My Bloody Valentine in the scene’s pantheon, but the remainder of their career went steadily downhill, with the occasional triumphs of 1992’s Going Blank Again giving way to the insipid, derivative rock of Carnival Of Light and their 1996 swansong Tarantula, recorded amid acrimonious infighting.
Weather Diaries doesn’t scale the heady heights of Nowhere, but neither is it a Tarantula-like misstep. Lead single Charm Assault was a promising early sign, recapturing many of their early strengths with its pealing guitar, swirling vocals and pounding rhythm section. The original line-up – Gardener, long time Oasis/Beady Eye collaborator Andy Bell, Laurence Colbert, and Steve Queralt – are all back and sounding revitalised by their long sabbatical, aided by former producer/mixer Alan Moulder, who worked on both Nowhere and Going Blank Again.
All Ride’s most successful ingredients are present and correct and sounding fresh, with the sound of Weather Diaries probably closest to Going Blank Again’s polished psychedelia with a pop sensibility, rather than Nowhere’s rawer, ragged majesty. There are some undoubted highlights – the atmospheric, sprawling and surging seven-minute title track; All I Want’s propulsive beats and hypnotic call and response harmonies and Rocket Silver Symphony’s skyscraper of a chorus. Yet overall, it does feel just ever so slightly underwhelming.
The main drawback is that while this is a quintessentially Ride-sounding record, the song writing simply isn’t as strong as their early 90s peak. The last three or four tracks are noticeably weak and tend to blend into one rather shapeless whole, and there’s nothing here to rival the towering majesty of a Dreams Burn Down or Leave Them All Behind; the fragile beauty of a Vapour Trail or Unfamiliar. Weather Diaries is also unremarkable lyrically, retaining the somewhat vapid sixth-form philosophising that was, to be fair, a Ride weakness all along.
Even so, on balance this is a more than respectable return to form from the Oxford quartet; thoughtfully constructed, sonically rich, energetic and crisply produced. It lacks that sprinkling of stardust to make it special, but after the valedictory bitter taste of Tarantula, it’s good to have Ride back and evidently enjoying themselves again.