The first time I ever heard about British rock band Ride was in the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A playlist recommended to high school freshman Charlie by his senior friends featured popular songs from the era, ranging from The Smiths to David Bowie. Included was the lesser-known “Vapour Trail” by Ride, although I now think it holds a strong argument for the ‘90s’ most resonant tune. The reason why they rarely get put on the same pedestal as other acts in the playlist is their short tenure on top, as grand as it was. After two classic albums came two duds, and the group was done. Yet, their return has a chance to change that — if the quartet can hit the right notes this time around.
“Charm Assault”, the first single from their upcoming 2017 release, proves they’ve all but done that. Known for their sharp wall of sound and atmospheric fluttering of high-pitched guitars, the Oxford natives effortlessly flaunt their core instrument-heavy sound. The vibe isn’t exactly the whimsical pop of 1992’s Going Blank Again, instead feeling rather comparable to the brooding, airy shoegaze of their debut, Nowhere. But in fulfilling its title, it matches Blank Again’s feelings of liveliness and beauty. It’s not exactly obvious that the song is a venting of frustration toward government, as it comes across more as a promotion of positivity than a conventional airing of grievances. It’s matched by its coasting melodies, which whisper alongside frontman Andy Bell’s gentle vocal delivery to establish a tone that’s pleasingly ethereal.
As the chorus appears, the melodies crash together for a parade of gooey rock. More known for their drawn-out instrumental parts, it’s great to see Ride hinging on their penchant for catchiness. They showcased it in full on their ‘92 record, and it’s brought out in a modern way on “Charm Assault”. Unlike their early career, they don’t spend as much time brooding on the past as they do facing the present head-on. But on top of their in-your face garage rock approach, they still manage to also include the deep jam sections for which they became known on Nowhere. Shiny post-rock courses through the song’s second half to continue stressing the band’s guitar-driven identity. The emotional weight of the song doesn’t provide the timelessness of anything off their first two albums, but it’s heartening to see a group moving forward with grace as well as cheer.
All of the elements in Ride’s first single in over 20 years come together magically, and it’s evident they thought long and hard about making a comeback record before doing so. The group’s playing with immense confidence in 2017, which is amazing considering the struggles of shoegaze and Britpop following their heightened states in the mid-’90s. Bell describes the song as a “natural continuation” of their peak, and he sums the track up perfectly with such a statement. What they’ve produced with “Charm Assault” then is, quite naturally, a guitar-driven slice of indie rock heaven.
Alternative/Indie Rock | Wichita Recordings