Of all the Nineties fads to rear back up out of musical history, shoegazing is one of the more genuinely inexplicable. Few ever expected pensively violent navel-and-pedal contemplation to have a second wind, but clearly no one told seminal genre outfit and architects Ride.
Almost three years after they announced they would reunite for a summer of festival shows around the globe, the Oxford rockers have a new record to tour, their first for twenty-plus years.
At Leeds Beckett University’s student union, the roll back the years and plough through more than a quarter-century of noise-drenched guitar pop; a showcase both raggedly cerebral and muzzily anaemic for good and ill.
June’s Weather Diaries, arguably the quartet’s most cohesive collection of songs since debut album Nowhere in 1990, smartly forms the cornerstone of their performance, trading away nostalgic fuzz for crisper, cleaner pastoral shades.
They still pack a punch on stage, of course; lead-off Lannoy Point is a post-Brexit kickback that marries hazy jangle pop to propulsive rhythms whilst the spiky Charm Assault riffs on the strident, smart post-punk of The Cure to great effect.
Elsewhere, Home is a Feeling channels early-era Pink Floyd into a tripped-out, languid psych-jam; and recent standalone single Pulsar throbs with a scrawling space-disco clamour, taut and muscular amid sinewy strands of fretwork harmonics.
It’s when Ride revert to type that they stumble. Much-maligned initial swansong Tarantula aside, the rest of the show serves as a career retrospective, flitting between early EPs to sophomore effort Going Blank Again and back.
Underneath their wall-of-sound wallop, the group wrote some of the best post-Madchester gems of the era, like the glimmering indie pop of Twisterella and OX4 – but here, it’s that very sonic scree that leaves them aurally grimy and muddied, their sheen sullied. That of course, by definition, is what shoegaze is all about, drenching songs in explosive feedback; but stacked up next to the epic, crystallised dream pop of Weather Diaries’ title track, older material seems disconcertingly dull, turning dirge-like in the din.
There are rescues, of course; a rare outing for the Pixies-ish Close My Eyes is a great reward for hardcore devotees and the longing chimes of Vapour Trail still ring out with a sweeping melancholy. But overall, Ride are at odds with themselves; caught between glories past and present, they struggle to recapture the shadows of old in the face of immersive modern greatness.