A common staple in the life-cycle of music is the re-appraisal of a band’s work – the passing of time can allow an album to breathe, giving it time to settle and find its place in the world after initial critical discontent. Very rarely, however, does this happen to an entire genre, but somehow, this happened to shoegaze.
Initially derided as “the scene that celebrates itself” by UK music journalists, a glut of bands found themselves at odds with the press and their record labels. Slowdive, a 5-piece from Berkshire, were perhaps the epitome of this, being dropped from Creation Records just a week after the 1995 release of their third album, the electronic-ambient infused Pygmalion.
After 22 years away, in which three of the members formed Mojave 3, they are back with a self-titled album – a promise of harkening back to the past. From the outset, they are back to home comforts, with the gorgeous twinkling guitars and spacious composition on opening track ‘Slomo’ sounding like a hybrid between Pygmalion and their second album, Souvlaki. It’s classic Slowdive, a patient beginning building up to a crescendo with Rachel Goswell’s soaring vocals – the lyrics are almost inaudible, but the vocals have always been considered as an additional instrument rather than a means to say words.
Lead single ‘Star Roving’ follows, with its roaring, reverb-drenched guitar creating the most anthemic song in the band’s discography – more indie rock than shoegaze. This is in contrast to the follow-up single, ‘Sugar For The Pill’, a gloriously stripped down, slick dream pop song – the first occasion on the album where the lyrics are clearly audible. Neil Halstead’s resigned delivery, “you know it’s just the way things are”, beautifully juxtapose the dream-like state created by the high-pitched arpeggiated guitar notes.
These notes permeate the album, with the addition of crisper drums helping to give the album a bit more bounce and rhythm than Souvlaki. On ‘No Longer Making Time’, probably the album’s most conventional pop song, the combination of sharp drumming and looping guitar precedes one of the more bombastic choruses, but there’s enough in the production to make even the most straightforwardly structured song sound reasonably unique.
Even the weakest track on the album, ‘Go Get It’, has its merits – its roaming bassline and booming drumming giving way to an explosive and passionate chorus “I wanna see it/I wanna feel it”. Much like their previous albums, Slowdive end this one on a softer note, with ‘Falling Ashes’ revolving around a gentle piano, accompanied by Halstead and Goswell singing in tandem, their voices a little more frail and vulnerable.
It’s easy after the reformation of a band for it to be viewed as a nostalgia trip, a rehashing of previous output to simply appease the fans – thankfully, Slowdive have not fallen foul of this trend. They have returned with a bolder, crisper and more confident sound – not so much a re-imagining, but a slight recalibration of the sound that makes them special. We often worry if new material will live up to the hype, but here, they have not only returned with an album that matches the quality of their previous output, but one that potentially surpasses it.