Nowhere seems to be the perennial second-placer to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in “top” lists.1 2 3 4 5 That’s not entirely fair. Nowhere is different than Loveless; the latter album made the “shoegaze” genre tag synonymous with swirling guitars, whirling fuzz, and tremolo pedal abuse; but Loveless was an outlier even within My Bloody Valentine’s own discography. The abstract washes of noise and construction of soundscapes rather than songs6 was almost entirely a phenomenon of MBV’s final album, which kickstarted hundreds – if not thousands – of copycats and legitimate successors alike that made such surreal guitarworks ubiquitous within the genre.
On the other hand, Ride was never about surrealism but dynamic songwriting, which is why Nowhere sounds so different to listeners whose experience with shoegaze is MBV & Co. The eight7 tracks here could all very well be top-tier singles that stand alone outside of the shoegaze composite, whereas Loveless is almost always better experienced as a total, unbroken work of art. These are rock tracks, and they’re bangers. Take the opener “Seagull” for example: it begins with screeching feedback and an extraordinary bassline that dives into interwoven guitar solos, dueling vocals, and groovy percussion.8 “Kaleidoscope” is fun and jangly, ebbing and flowing much like the tide in Nowhere‘s album artwork. Check out “Polar Bear” in all of its thudding percussion against swirling guitars that take full advantage of Nowhere‘s stereo mix. Ride is a rock band – a shoegaze band, certainly, but a rock band through and through, with melodies and hooks that show a remarkable pop sensibility.
Whereas shoegaze has the reputation of being a primarily studio effort to achieve its sonic intensity, Nowhere is relatively free of excess effects. The vocal duties of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell are displayed in all of their British glory with almost no post-processing; they’re imperfect – especially on “In a Different Place” – but add to the live quality that so much shoegaze lacks on studio albums. That’s the key to Nowhere‘s success: everything about it feels alive, as if it’s being played right in front of the listener instead of meticulously dissected and rebuilt in an engineer’s studio. The noise is not gratuitous, nor does it overwhelm the rock musicianship; even at the loudest moments of “Dreams Burn Down,” it’s still very much led by that gentle guitar pluck.
Nowhere is the sound of a full band. Each member adds to Ride’s signature, without which Nowhere would be not nearly as fun or as powerful. Laurence Colbert’s drum beats are massive, especially those snare hits on the ominous “Decay,” and are just as much responsible for Ride’s hard sound as any of the Bell/Gardener guitar leads. Steve Queralt’s bass is groovy, which “Seagull” most aptly demonstrates. Bell and Gardener do not compete9 – they co-operate. The strings on closer “Vapour Trails” are gentle and plaintive without the bombast of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” or the mopeyness of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.”10 It’s a striking and rare example of a band as gestalt rather than the glorified vanity project of a single guy.11
Ride does not play second fiddle to My Bloody Valentine. They’re in a whole different orchestra. Nowhere is shoegaze’s earliest masterpiece, and an exceptional example of modern rock music at its noisiest and jammiest – one that trades delicacy for tenacity.
1. Seagull – (6:08) – ★★★★★
2. Kaleidoscope – (3:01) – ★★★★★
3. In a Different Place – (5:28) – ★★★☆☆
4. Polar Bear – (4:45) – ★★★★★
5. Dreams Burn Down – (6:04) – ★★★★★
6. Decay – (3:35) – ★★★★★
7. Paralysed – (5:33) – ★★★★☆
8. Vapour Trail – (4:18) – ★★★★★
1Kellman, Andy. “Nowher E- Ride | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic.” AllMusic. Accessed May 10, 2016. http://www.allmusic.com/album/nowhere-mw0000311372.
2Staff, Pitchfork. “Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.” – Page 3. Accessed May 10, 2016. http://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/5923-top-100-albums-of-the-1990s/?page=3.
My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is number two on the final page; in the original list, it was ranked number one.
3“100 Greatest Shoegaze Albums.” Sounds Better With Reverb. March 2014. Accessed May 10, 2016. http://www.soundsbetterwithreverb.com/100-greatest-shoegaze-albums/.
4“Custom Chart – Rate Your Music.” Rate Your Music. Accessed May 10, 2016. http://rateyourmusic.com/customchart?page=1&chart_type=top&type=album&year=alltime&genre_include=1&genres=Shoegaze&include_child_genres=t&include=both&limit=none&countries=.
List generated as “Top Albums” within the shoegaze genre on 10 May 2016.
5Heller, Jason. “Ride: Nowhere · Permanent Records · The A.V. Club.” The A.V. Club. July 31, 2007. Accessed May 10, 2016. http://www.avclub.com/article/ride-inowherei-16713.
Refers to My Bloody Valentine as “[shoegaze]’s figurehead.”
6… with exceptions being “Only Shallow” and “Soon.” No wonder they were singles.
7… not counting the original CD bonus tracks that were from the Fall extended-play.
8In an interview with MTV, Gardener stated that the song came about while learning “A Taste of Honey” by The Beatles. Fans of that band may notice another parallel: the bassline is a direct quotation from “Taxman” off of Revolver. Check out more here: http://www.mtv.com/news/2693614/going-nowhere-with-andy-bell/
9Save that for Carnival of Light, when they were so at odds that songs written by Bell wouldn’t be on the same side as those by Gardener.
10… of which Andy Bell would become a member in 1999 following Ride’s dissolution and the hiatus of his next band Hurricane No. 1. His first album credit would be on 2002’s Heathen Chemistry, not including 2000’s live album Familiar to Millions.
11That’s not meant as a dig to MBV. Loveless is an excellent album in its own right, and Kevin Shields’ dominance of the project is directly responsible for their success.