This Is Not A Safe Place
This Is Not A Safe Place is Ride’s second album since reforming in 2014. By now, we should all be familiar with their back story: inventors of the shoegazer scene (though they had that appellation), released a brilliant, classic début ep in 1990 before a series of inventive, beautiful albums (their début album was our Classic Album of the Week a few weeks back) before flaming out in acrimony between frontmen Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. Me, I’m happy they buried the hatchet.
Their first album since reforming, 2017’s Weather Diaries, saw the four lads from Oxford laying claim to their legacy and seeking to move on. With This Is Not A Safe Place, the band has settled into themselves. This is not a bad thing. Bell and Gardener have known each other since high school; they met bassist Steve Queralt and drummer Loz Colbert in art school in 1988. That makes them middle-aged now, but it doesn’t mean they’re making Dad Rock. Quite the opposite, in fact. Not A Safe Place fits gloriously into their ouevre, and can hold its own with Leave Them All Behind, their 1992 magnum opus.
The album kicks off with the instrumental ‘R.I.D.E.’, a stomping mix of fuzzy bass, distorted guitar and crystal-clear drums (as in you can hear the contact between Colbert’s pedal and the kick drum). The guitars are an homage to fellow shoegazers My Bloody Valentine. This segues into the pretty ‘Future Love,’ which sounds like a b-side from Leave Them All Behind. For the record, I liked some of those b-sides more than the a-sides in 1992.
On Weather Diaries, Ride played around with new sounds, a bit of a dance influence even, perhaps due to the production of London-based DJ Erol Aikan. He’s back this time around and ‘Repetition’, which is another heavy guitar song also contains elements of repetitive dance, most notably via the shouted chorus of ‘Repetition is change.’
But if this suggests a next step, ‘Kill Switch’ is classic Ride all the way through. On an album of favourite songs, this might be my most favourite, along with ‘R.I.D.E.’ and closer, ‘In This Room.’ ‘Kill Switch’ may see Gardener’s vocals higher in the mix than in 1990, but the guitar echoes in the background over Colbert’s pounding drums, and then Queralt’s bass comes in, drenched in reverb and fuzz. Gardener chants his lyrics, and once he get through the first verse, the noise picks up, and the guitars overwhelm. The track mellows out, sort of, to let him sing, but the louder guitar pyrotechnics mean this song would’ve been perfectly placed on that début ep Smile from 1990.
The rest of the album follows this pattern, mixing guitar stompers with more meditative pretty songs (like ‘Clouds of Saint Marie’ and ‘Dial Up’). Throughout, it feels like we’re listening to a band at the height of its powers, which is an impressive accomplishment for a band with the back catalogue Ride has. The album ends with ‘In This Room’ an 8 minute, 40 second opus, beginning with the chords of an electric piano, before gently floating into a dreamy guitar song. At their best, Ride mixed vicious, loud guitars, simple melodies, and elements of Pink Floyd. And here, we get that. The chorus ‘This is not a safe place to be/And no one cares/If waving and drowning do look the same.’