Shoegaze iconsÂ Slowdive have arguably proved more popular in death than they were inÂ life: dismissed by the press in their â90s heyday, the band who were signed to (then dropped by) Alan McGee’s fabled Creation Records have amassed legions new followers in their time apart. 22 years on, the UK group’s comeback album finds themÂ cementing their legacy. April Clare Welsh delves into a record that wasÂ worth the wait.
SlowdiveÂ were in lot ways victims their time. When they were axedÂ from Creation Records a week after releasing their third album Pygmalion in 1995, it was in part because Britpop was in vogue, and a nine-track ambient LPÂ simply wasn’t going to cut it with festival crowds gravitating en masse towards laddy anthem-makers with attitude.
Lead songwriters Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell wroteÂ Pygmalion knowing that they were about to be dropped by Alan McGee’s label. Instead paying lip service to the mid-90s zeitgeist Cool Britannia, that record sought to exist on a plane its own, resultingÂ in one the decade’s most beautiful releases. After quietly disbanding, they eventually reformedÂ for Primavera Sound in 2014 and enjoyedÂ a successful run shows, before surprising fans by confirmingÂ new material. Slowdive,Â their first album in 22 years,Â ushers in a new pop renaissance for the band, favoring the substantial over theÂ minimal, while also quietlyÂ confirming their position as one theÂ definitive shoegaze crews.
Slowdive’s decision to self-title their fourth album suggests a desire toÂ reclaim autonomy and start writing their own narrativeÂ afterÂ years being eclipsed by moreÂ dominant voices. And as comeback albums go, SlowdiveÂ is a confident statement that breezes along the vibrant side the tracks â the band are 22 years older (and wiser), but their zest certainly hasn’t withered. One the best things aboutÂ shoegaze is howÂ it has stood the test time â it wasn’t cool to like it then and it’s certainly not cool to like it now â but that’s probably why it’s dated so well.
However, Slowdive isn’t aÂ comeback album that duly picks up where the band left f, trapped in the ethereal haze Pygmalion. Instead, it distills all the band’s defining qualities â swirling guitars, bittersweet male/female vocal sparring, contrast and texture â into a meaty, muscular record that hits the highs the â90s, while alsoÂ tuning into the hypnagogic moments the band are famous for.
The album’s seven-minute opener posits gently chiming guitarsÂ that wax and wane as Goswell’s voice just about slides into earshot, a classically dreamy turn for the band. There’s also a nod to their electronic explorations with the plaintive textures ‘Falling Ashes’ and ‘Go Get It’, but fans hoping for an extension Pygmalion’s gauzy brilliance will be largely disappointed – Slowdive blazes with anthemic meteors like ‘Star Roving’ and ‘No Longer Making Time’ that crash and burn with knowing prowess.
Elsewhere, the band’sÂ pop-powered comeback is more subtle, yet still palpable. The incandescentÂ hook ‘Don’t Know Why’ lingers long after the song has finished and while the st-rockÂ polishÂ ‘Sugar for the Pill’ is downtempoÂ and despondent (the track exploresÂ heartbreak), it’s anything but wispy. ‘Everyone Knows’ pitsÂ Goswell’s falsetto againstÂ chugging post-punk, while the track’s seamless and shimmering reverb-drenched guitarsÂ shouldÂ help to remindÂ nu-gaze adopteesÂ that Slowdive did it first.
“It’s poppier than I thought it was going to be,” notes Halstead in the press release. Slowdive is essentially the album Alan McGee wanted from the band in 1995 â but done on their own terms.
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