by Hobey Echlin
Of all the mop-topped UK shoegazer bands of a decade ago, Ride was arguably the most rock and roll — for better or for worse. Lush and My Bloody Valentine relied on guitar pyrotechnics and forward-thinking producers, and frankly made catchier tunes and ground-breaking albums. (MBV’s Loveless is its ilk’s Pet Sounds/Sgt. Peppers.) But Ride were just four college-town lads who formed a band and played what they thought was rock ’n’ roll.
As this career-spanning retrospective and accompanying disc of nixed album cuts shows, Ride’s jangly pop songs sounded like dreamier Smiths messing around with Cocteau Twins’ shimmery guitar effects — or sandblasted guitar anthems capable of conjuring a blurrier Who or more seascape-prone MBV. Either way, it never just sounded like indie rock. Mark Gardner’s Celtic croon was more netherworldly and unashamedly British invasion, closer to the Byrds than kindred new-rock alternative rumblings percolating in Seattle around the same time.
On the opening “Chelsea Girl,” “Anarchy in the UK”’s guitar chomp is phased through a shoegaze whoosh in mad dash to the finish line, a sound that recalls the best Hüsker Dü; drummer Loz Colbert makes it smashingly clear this ain’t mope rock. It’s the kinetic rush that counts here, the same way the guitar wash would become a fetish point of other shoegaze groups. At least Ride had the sense to keep things moving.
When they do give in to the shiny guitar preciousness on “Vapour Trail,” at least Gardner’s Pet Shop Boys vocals are pushed along by Colbert’s ripe-for-sampling breakbeat drumming.
Ride reached its destination as a band with 1992’s “Leave Them All Behind,” the band’s best song; an ace example of Ride’s classic-rock inspirations and shoegazer indulgences. Gardner and guitarist Andy Bell’s interwoven guitar whoosh and vocals have a kind of deadpan, Gregorian majesty, one that seems to exist both in spite of and in addition to Stephen Queralt’s stoic bassline and Colbert’s overplaying as if he’s embarrassed to be in a band with art-school wusses.
OX4 also chronicles Ride’s less-remarkable maturation out of guitar excess into proper songwriting with pleasant-enough but forgettable Britpop (“Twisterella”) before Ride derailed into sneering, trying-too-hard garage rock (“Black Night Crash”).
The accompanying outtakes disc is more for completists. “She’s So Fine” is a misfired attempt as baggy-panted Britfunk circa ’93. Yet, a demo version of 1989’s “In a Different Place” is so wonderfully, achingly over-the-top in its late-’80s British way; it captures that netherworldy, Britpop quality better than 90 percent of similar one-word-named bands that would surface over the next five years.
E-mail Hobey Echlin at email@example.com.