Slowdive released their much anticipated self titled comeback release on May 5th. Oh how times change and the adage that hindsight is 20/20 is proven true once again. The band could probably write one hell of a page turner about their experiences in the manic world of rock music during the late Eighties and Nineties. Slowdive endured an appalling twist of fate going from feted darlings of the Shoegaze genre with their debut to be reviled and abused by critics a year or two later with their followup release.
The Shoegaze genre would undergo a vitriolic attack from the critics and Slowdive would be on the receiving end for a lion’s share of the abuse. The band would break up after their label released them in 1995 following their third album and Slowdive would remain dormant for over 22 years. As time passed the Shoegaze genre would experience a revival and rightfully receive the respect it always deserved. There is a kind of karmic justice that Slowdive, one of the seminal bands of the genre, would finally get a well deserved rebirth of sorts. The band and the Shoegaze genre have inspired many young bands like Tame Impala, The 1975 and Beach House.
To put things in context one had to understand the history of Slowdive. Slowdive’s story starts in Reading, UK circa 1989. The two founders of the band Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead has been childhood acquaintances since they were six years old going to Sunday Youth Group together. They formed the band along with Simon Scott on drums, Nick Chaplin on bass and Christian Savill on guitar, while Goswell provided vocals, and guitar and Halstead, the primary songwriter, also provided vocals and guitars. At the time the band members were all in their late teens. The band took their name from a Siouxie and the Banshee’s single. The Slowdive would snag a record deal with Creation records and have the heady accomplishment of gaining a #10 UK indie chart entry for their debut “Just for a Day” in 1991.
The band would be classified under the relatively young genre of Shoegaze. Shoegaze is best characterized by abrasive guitars and ethereal vocals, and was an excellent description of what Slowdive had on offer. Unfortunately shortly after the band’s debut critics turned against the genre with an acute backlash taking place. This was mostly due to many critics falling in love with the laddy Britpop movement. Just two years after the band’s debut these same critics would savage the band’s follow up “Slouvlaki” quickly dismissed the release. Things would go from bad to worse as critics would not only dismiss the Shoegaze genre but unrelentlessly focus their venom on Slowdive. There is ample documentation of the band’s bad luck which was worse than no luck at all. Comments like those from a critic at Melody Maker who said “I would rather drown choking to death in a bath full of porridge than listen to Slouvlaki again” were common and left an indelible mark on the band’s psyche. The band quickly became the redheaded stepchild of the music business unloved and always seeming to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The band was placed under exceptional pressure by their label to make the next release a pop hit framed within the constructs of Britpop.
The band shrugged off the advice and put out 1995’s “Pygmalion” a departure from Shoegaze and instead an experimental outing which was certainly not Britpop in styling. The album was considered a failure leading to the band’s release from Creation records. The members of the band were only in their early twenties at this point and the pressure and unmitigated critical beating Slowdive took finally brought the band to an end.
Over the following years Shoegaze would be vindicated and Slowdive would gain many new admirers of their works. The band would be approached from time to time to reunite but remembering the beat down they had received kindly refused. The hesitancy was also due to the fact the band had trouble believing how immensely popular they had become in the intervening years. In 2014 the band would reform and would venture forth with their live come back performance occurring at the 2014 Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. The success of their 20 date summer tour the same year proved that Slowdive were not forgotten and were actually beloved. The visceral snark from the critics for the Slowdive had transmuted into a reverie and respect for the band. Thankfully with the release of the new eponymous album some of the sting of the past can now hopefully be forgotten.
The self titled new release presents everything that is great about Slowdive. The album sonically picks up where “Slouvlaki” left off and is unmistakably Slowdive. It is not however a faint carbon copy of their prior works but a faster tempo, vibrant reanimation of a band that deserves a second chance. The album starts off with “Slo mo” and with the first notes bringing back all the wonder of the band’s esteemed musicianship. The song is assertive, mature and expansive. It is a spectacular headphone experience with majestic swirling chords and is all shoegaze should be; hypnotic and aggressive. “Star Roving” is the first release off the album and another stellar track. The song is more aggressive that the opener with a great jangle guitar and fuzzed out bass. It has a brighter feeling and is filled with energy. The sonics on the track produce a rushing wave of icy chill that engulf the listener and bring them along on the journey. Upon listening I am convinced that many younger bands owe at least a royalty or two to this band for the musical creations that clearly originating with Slowdive.
“Don’t Know Why” displays a delightful duet between Halstead and Goswell. There is a interweaving of glittering guitar and krautrock drums that makes for a “Dreamwave on speed” sonic. The cut glass crystalline guitar oscillates to a helium filled chorus that is oh so satisfying. The lyrics examine the whys and wherefores of past decisions questioning in the lyrics, “ …Don’t know why I threw it all away” . “Everyone Knows” follows with a pixilated intro that goes acoustic then explodes into a scintillating aural treatment. The harmonies are out of this world and the overall aim is interstellar shoegazery. “No longer Making Time” is a slower tempo ballad which occurs at the right time on the playlist mixes things up making it distinct from the other tracks. There is a great interaction between the drums and guitar with reverb, reverb, reverb as the feature. The song again releases an adrenalin hit at the chorus that launches the song into the stratosphere and becomes a earworm you can’t escape. The song lyrics yearn nostalgically for a past where there was all the time in the world to indulge in the small things.
“Go Get It” has a Curesque bass and an engaging guitar progression that is backed up by a keening keyboard and creative pedal sonic. The song is atmospheric and ghostly. It cleverly juxtaposes minimal acoustics with an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach and comes out with a winning track. The final track “Falling Ashes” is another departure from the usual for the band’s sound. It contains a single piano in the intro producing a somber bittersweet aura where the rhythm works like a clock counting out our days. The vocals are in the forefront on this haunting song and it is a brilliant sign off to an excellent comeback release.
I have often wondered if possibly Slowdive occurred too early to be appreciated or if they suffered from plain old bad luck. Anyone could understand why they hesitated to make any kind of comeback attempt by just glancing at the vile treatment they received at the hand of the music press of the day. Thankfully it is made water under the bridge with this release. The take away is that new release is a masterful display of the band members’ resiliency and skills. Comebacks can have many pitfalls but after a listen to this album I am glad Slowdive showed the intestinal fortitude to once again rush the fences and their vibrancy is evident throughout the release. Old Slowdive fans will find much to love on the latest album and new listeners will find a band to love and rediscover. Well done.