Waves: Seventeen original BBC recordings from the Radio 1 sessions (1990-1994)
The First Time
Ride has been history long enough for sufficient nostalgia to build, a “best of” album and box set to appear without seeming too rushed or opportunistic, and to allow the band’s obvious devotees (Coldplay and Ash, for instance) to be heralded as something new and exciting. Toward the end of their seven-year career, “new” and “exciting” weren’t the two most likely adjectives to be applied to this Oxonian four-piece. The shoegazer movement had by that time abruptly lost momentum, and the band had retreated to the ’60s rock stylebook on both their penultimate and farewell albums, Carnival of Light (1994) and Tarantula (1996).
Listening to Waves, it would be almost impossible to guess that the band finished in the way that it did, fracturing before the final release, disappearing, and then seeing its various members re-emerge as the thankfully shortlived Hurricane#1 and the equally cringe-worthy The Animalhouse. (Andy Bell, a strong creative force while in Ride, has since been reduced to playing bass for the Gallagher brothers.) These five BBC sessions, recorded for Radio 1 DJs John Peel (1990), Mark Goodier (1992, 1993) and Mark Radcliffe (1994), prove that Ride shouldn’t be taken lightly, no matter what its post-breakup fate has been. The group had a vitality and presence that aren’t easily replicated. Not all the tracks included here will be to everyone’s liking, of course, but it would be wrong to say that even the weakest ones don’t get a solid, head-turning treatment.
The seventeen songs span the breadth of Ride’s oeuvre, beginning with “Like a Daydream” from the early Smile dual-EP release, moving on to “Decay” from Nowhere, “Not Fazed” from Going Blank Again, “Birdman” from Carnival of Light and a preview of “Walk on Water,” ultimately reserved for Tarantula. There are also two praiseworthy covers: Pale Saints’ “Sight of You” and Dead Can Dance’s “Severance.” It’s good to see so many non-charting tracks get an airing, but “Vapour Trail,” “Paralysed,” “Chelsea Girl” and “Leave Them All Behind” are just four conspicuous absences. And I’d have thought that “I Don’t Know Where It Comes From,” one of the dumbest, most banal songs ever written, would have been quietly tucked aside and forgotten. But no. It closes out Waves just like it closed out Carnival of Light — badly. Some might be tempted to see it as indicative of a larger metaphor.
Were I, not you, the one reading this, I would want to know one thing. As a former (and occasionally current) Ride listener, is it necessary to buy Waves? I have the EPs, the full-lengths, the B-sides. I even own the excruciatingly mediocre Live Light. What does Waves contribute to all this? The answer is everything and nothing. The sound of these BBC sessions is cleaner, more straightforward, and the performances have a directness and urgency that can’t be found on the standard recordings. And then there’s the matter of the two previously unreleased covers. On the other hand, these versions aren’t radically different. In some cases, you’d have to have given the albums a recent spin to be able to spot the differences. Plus the selection of tracks isn’t exactly a tour of the ol’ hit parade, either. To recommend it without reservation would mean ignoring these flaws, something I’m not prepared to do.
The deciding factor may be the liner notes. They are by no means extensive, but there are short recollections from band members and managers, giving a general idea of the mood and outcome of each session. Sadly missing from the nostalgia party is Ride’s best songwriter, Mark Gardener, even after all these years of water running under the bridge. This, too, may be indicative of a larger metaphor.