The story behind Slowdive’s comeback album is a bit too perfect. All too often, comeback albums are a product of some combination of a popular middle-aged band needing retirement funds, labels at a loss for sales with young folks, and the human condition’s constant desperation for the past. The formerly critically-shunned shoegazers missed all of that.
Slowdive didn’t receive some big check to write these songs—they didn’t even think about record labels until the album was finished. Also, the way they were jerked in and out of fame in their short six-year career didn’t have them thinking too nostalgically. Throw in Beach House’s Chris Cody on the mixing stage and you’ve got an album that’s easy to write about.
Still, all these factors are truly audible. The band’s freshness is remarkable, perhaps a product of the Beach House interplay. This is not a group reaching backwards, it’s an honest crew of songwriters doing what they’ve always done. It’s a logical move from Pygmalion, pushing all of that sonic exploration at a bit of a faster clip, with some slightly more digestible lyrics. Like My Bloody Valentine’s 2013 offering, it’s a testament to the importance of Shoegaze and it achieves that distinction by simply delivering honest material from beginning to end.
“Star Roving” makes a great single that shows the warmer side of the project. It thrives on a single guitar lick that punches like all hell with classic Slowdive vocal delivery and a typically rich sonic pool surrounding it all. Neil and Rachel’s chemistry is as good as ever as lyrics effortlessly nail young love: “Smiling beautiful/She says I make it best/For everyone to hide/Twisting around my girl/Nothing left to lose.” The song takes a moment to breathe with “oohs” between phrases and every time that guitar revamps, the goosebumps return.
The band emulates this warmth elsewhere, such as the instrumentally driven jam “Go Get it.” A guitar opens with a spilling delay effect on the simple, descending melody. The rather giant snare sound helps drive things as the chorus roars “I WANNA FEEL IT.” This song also brings the group’s lyrical talents into play. Each song doesn’t so much hand the listener a slew of lyrics or an idea or narrative, rather the group’s words fall in and out of importance with phrases only used at just the right moment to enhance the sonic effect.
“Everyone Knows” presents the most obvious lyrical distortion as the words fall entirely secondary to the strumming acoustic guitar and driving mass of sound. “Don’t Know Why” also uses lyrics a bit differently by abstracting some specific words, but here you get the gist of the mood and the words later become a bit more metaphorically delivered.
Rachel articulates the part of a break-up when you just don’t want to hear from your former partner: “Put it all behind you/Put it in a song/I don’t want to know about it.” The lines spill over each other and gradually it all melds together like a frantic collection of thoughts. The abstraction of words is just as important as the abstraction of typical guitar roles in shoegaze and the group epitomizes it on this record that achieves emotional impact with sparse ideas and turns of phrase.
The second single, “Sugar for the Pill” shows the album’s cooler side. Admittedly, as a stand-alone track, the song comes across as extremely clean and straightforward, but it makes more sense in the middle of the album as it’s bookended by two instances of heavy lyrical abstraction. Neil paints pictures with his words: “There’s a buzzard of gulls/They’re drumming in the wind/Only lovers alive/Running in the dark.” It’s cool and detached and expresses a certain darkness of moving on from something that once was.
The album ends in a similarly cool place with “Falling Ashes.” Piano shows up out of nowhere and remains brooding throughout. Lyrics seem to reference their former selves with words about being lost with the prospect of being pulled back to happiness: “thinking about love.” It caps off the work nicely by not trying too hard to find blissful stability and instead continuing to face their demons.
As far as the future goes, the band might not have a huge amount of impactful material left in them and perhaps Pygmalion and Souvlaki will remain their most significant works, but their self-titled album shows a highly relevant and important group living up to their songwriting legacy.