England - Full Moon 115 - 02/13/06
Just for a day / Souvlaki / Pygmalion - remastered
When I was a teen in the early '90s listening to Ride and The Boo Radleys, I sadly overlooked Slowdive. Not surprising really if you read the liner notes to these new remastered editions of their three studio albums - the British music press took delight in shooting Slowdive down at every opportunity. However, as these albums demonstrate, Slowdive produced strangely timeless music that didn't resonate with a country high on the shallow buzz of Britpop.
Just for a day (1991) is a dreamy debut, reminiscent of The Cure, early Blur and the Cocteau Twins. The lyrics are pretty terrible, but the gauzy elegance of the instrumentation is undeniably lovely, and as a whole the album has aged pretty well. In particular, "Erik's Song" is utterly weightless, alchemical in its blur of reverb and delay. Of these three reissues, the debut also has the best extras, with a second disc of early EP tracks and a Peel session too. A lovely package, well worth checking out.
Their second, Souvlaki (1993), is an excellent album, and easy evidence of the scale of Slowdive's talents, especially Neil Halstead's skill in layering multiple tracks of effects-laden guitars, to mostly staggering effect. Most of Slowdive's best songs are found here, including my personal favourites "Machine Gun" and "When the Sun Hits", and the dubby, swirling "Souvlaki Space Station". The album tails off a little towards the end, and the confessional acoustic ballad "Dagger" is a weak closer, but on the whole the quality of material on Souvlaki is impressive, and still sounds great today. Indeed, if you stand this album up alongside today's shoegazers such as Sereena Maneesh, you realise how ahead of their time Slowdive were.
By the time Pygmalion (1995) emerged, Slowdive were beset with promotional fuck-ups, personal traumas, and a music scene that has ceased to care about them. Thankfully, their swansong is an eerie beauty, a timeless, echoing ghost of a record that is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. Listen to it on headphones while lying down and I defy you not to drift off into dreamy reverie. There's the gorgeous opener "Rutti", stretching a simple guitar strum, brushed drum loop and warm bassline out into ten minutes of ecstasy. And "Blue Skied An' Clear" is just breathtaking. Nothing on Pygmalion quite sounds as wonderful as these two songs, but there are no clunky moments, and the music drifts like smoke.
In retrospect it's easy to see why Slowdive were such a maligned band. The British press of the early '90s was seemingly obsessed with discovering 'the next big thing', with an image to go along with it, and Slowdive were anything but. Introspective stoners, with very little in the way of an image, it seems that all they were interested in was making transcendent, shuddering music, unburdened by egotistical performances and individual personalities. The music, despite its monolithic power, could almost have been made by any bunch of dreamy British suburbanites with a bunch of effects pedals and loud amps. But it wasn't - it was made by Slowdive. Thank you Slowdive.
Copyright © 2006 Tim Clarke