I have this vivid memory of the first time I heard this album. It was a gloriously sunny day, and I was sitting on the steps me and my Old Man had built down to the beach from my parents’ place on Burrard Inlet outside of Vancouver. There was nothing, no one about. It was a chilly October day, and this album came crashing into my headphones on my Walkman. I had borrowed the tape from my friend Mike Robinson (RIP), before I got my own copy.
Nowhere starts with ‘Seagull,’ which itself begins with this furious cymbal before squalls of guitar feedback and then Steve Queralt’s big, fat bassline, and then it all comes crashing down into furious drums from Loz Colbert and guitarists Andy Bell and Mark Gardener seemingly attempting to out play each other, as squalls of feedback come crashing through the speakers. And then Bell’s vocals kick in.
My eyes are sore
My body weak
My throat is dry
I cannot speak
My words are dead
Floating like feathers to the floor
Yeah, so, the lyrics aren’t particularly profound, but, really, no one listened to Ride for the lyrics. The vocals of Bell or Gardener, the two songwriters, were more about affect and feeling than words. It’s been 29 years this fall since I first heard this album, and even now, after hearing ‘Seagull’ about 48 quadrillion times, it still sends chills down my spine.
After borrowing the cassette from Robinson, I copied it, but that was only until I got paid and could go to Sam the Record Man and get me my own copy of the cassette. I wore that one out by the end of high school the following June. So I bought a new copy of it at the big Sam’s in downtown Vancouver on Seymour St. And I took it with me to Ottawa to begin my university career. But the time I gave up on that and moved back to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1993, I was on my third copy of the cassette. Thank god for CDs, man. They don’t wear out like cassettes. Now, of course, it’s 2019, and I am digital. I don’t do vinyl, I don’t need another pile of shit to lug around.
‘Seagull’ is the most furious song on the album, all crashing drums, guitars, feedback, and bass. After that, it’s not exactly as if Ride mellow out so much as the trip continues. Most of the songs on Nowhere are love songs of some variation, written by romantic young men from Oxford, who met at art school. Almost all of the lyrics are filtered through drug trips, and they reflect the generally heavy thoughts young, romantic men have when they’re high. But, affect, man.
This album still gets played a fair amount around here. Its brilliance still is apparent.
There is a difference between the North American and British/Irish version of Nowhere. We got the better deal in the colonies. The original album is eight tracks long, but on this side of the Atlantic, we got the Fall ep tacked onto the end, so we got eleven tracks in total, including the seeming title track of the album, ‘Nowhere.’
Gardener handles the bulk of the vocals on this album. He and Bell share the first two tracks, ‘Seagull’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ And Bell takes ‘Paralyzed’, ‘Vapour Trail,’ ‘Here and Now’ and ‘Nowhere.’ Gardener handles the rest. This makes Nowhere an outlier in the Ride ouevre. It’s not as if Bell took over primary duties necessarily, as both of them contributed songs to later releases, but Bell provided more of the vocals.
Like any classic album, like true classic, there isn’t a clunker track to be found in Nowhere. For me, aside from the genius of ‘Seagull,’ highlights include the following:
‘Polar Bear,’ which begins with shimmery guitars before the rhythm section of Queralt and Colbert show up. And this is the thing about Ride, they are categorized as shoegazers, so that means loud, loud guitars and distorted or buried-in-the-mix vocals. But this is not the Gardener and Bell show, Queralt and Colbert are absolutely essential to this album. Colbert is perhaps one of the most underrated drummers of 90s rock, and Queralt’s bass is big, heavy and thick, and because the duelling guitars of Gardener and Bell are really dual leads, it’s Queralt who drives the rhythm of the songs.
These are songs about feelings more than anything, and ‘Polar Bear’ tells the story of a young woman on a trip:
She knew she was able to fly
Because when she came down
She had dust on her hands from the sky
She said, I touched a cloud
She felt so high
The dust made her cry.
I am also partial to ‘Parayzed,’ which sees the band a bit more contemplated compared to other tracks. It starts off almost sounding like the Cure, both Bell and Gardener’s guitars sound a lot like Porl Thompson’s. And here Bell’s vocals are buried down in the mix, but still clear, as he kind of dream-sings about depression.
‘Vapour Trail’ follows, another track upon which Bell takes the vocals. This is perhaps the most straight-forward, poppy track on the album, with Queralt’s bass providing bounce to the track. In a lot of ways, it’s indicative of the direction Ride would take on their next album, Leave Them All Behind. Bell sings about the usual sorts of problems one has in love
First you look so strong
Then you fade away
The sun will blind my eyes
I’ll love you anyway
Thirsty for your smile
I’ll watch you for awhile
You are a vapour trail
In a deep blue sky.
The final track, ‘Nowhere,’ which was written by Colbert, is the outlier here. But it is glorious. Beginning with some distorted bass and guitars, it is deeply indebted to The Cure’s Pornography album before it finds its own sound. Ostensibly about a breakup, Bell’s lyrics are almost chanted over the droning bass and guitars, you have to struggle to hear him.
And this closes the album. This was Ride’s high point, it’s sad to admit. Prior to Nowhere, they had released a series of Eps in England that were insanely hard to find in Canada and the US. The first two Eps, Ride and Play were compiled onto the Smile album, which was really just another extended play. It was glorious, loud, crunching guitars, distortion, and all of that good stuff. In fact, the track ‘Nowhere’ carries that sound to a new place, which ultimately means quite simply that Nowhere was better produced than those early Eps. After Nowhere came 1992’s Leave Them All Behind, which saw an end to the wild adventurousness of Nowhere, as the band attempted to write more straightforward songs. And then everything fell to shit after that, as Bell and Gardener grew egos and acted like jerks.
They split in 1996, after Gardener walked out on the sessions that led to the disastrous ‘last’ album, Tarantula, which was deleted from Creation’s catalogue the week after it was released. Ride eventually reformed in 2015 or so and gave us the glorious Weather Diaries in 2017 and then an ep of leftovers in 2018, Tomorrow’s Shores. This is Not a Safe Place is out on 19 August.