At some point during the long break between 1996 and 2017, the sound of Oxford’s dream noise outfit Ride made a subtle but revelatory shift. Although the band had always fully embraced sugary pop hooks, in their striped-sweater glory daze they had done so under a crushing wall of glazed noise. Although Ride’s particular form of Noise Wall was not as disruptive as their peers in My Bloody Valentine, who would never have dreamed of leaving a song like “Vapor Trail” so naked, still it was utilized so heavily on Ride Classics like “Twisterella” and “Cool Your Boots” that it tended to obscure the sunshine rush bubbling just underneath the surface of even their most dissonant deep cuts.
This all changed on Weather Diaries, in this writer’s opinion a grand comeback and easily the most spun Ride record on my Spotify, and this means something since I spun the absolute shit out of those old records when these dudes were on break. In embracing a crisp and compressed modern production sound, the men of Ride were finally allowed to let their hooks run wild and free, and they took full advantage by piling up a ridiculous amount of angel swoon choruses and morning tea Beatles verses. On a track like “Weather Diaries” they seemed determined to build an endless hall of mirrors of hooks, an echo chamber where every 20-second guitar solo or bridge or synth burst contained within its own universe an endless set of earworm chimes designed to provoke a full range of feeling.
And now we’ve got This Is Not A Safe Place, with its dystopian title and similarly rushy advance singles beckoning alluringly. At the end of the day it just feels good to have another 12 Ride tracks to dig into, so Mark Gardener, Laurence Colbert, Steve Queralt, and Mr. “Never Too Old For A Faux Leather Jacket” Andy Bell could have simply set the cruise controls for the heart of the sun and reaped in the spins from the loyals and all those tantalizing tour dollars this time around. Fortunately for everyone involved, the Oxford foursome instead keep pushing forward, syncing up the gains made on Weather Diaries, doubling down on the unobscured production and naked Big Star hooks while welcoming back a bit of the lush darkness and confusion that has always lurked deep in the DNA of cuts like “Charm Attack” and “Seagull” with open arms. It’s an even better album than Weather Diaries, seemingly designed to be listened to as a whole and containing no grudging concessions to EDM or echo-y voice modulation. It’s obvious they took their time on this one, working hard to get it right, and I for one am eternally thankful for their efforts.
Did I mentioned they double down on the hooks? “Clouds Of Saint Marie” is easily the most straight-up pop they’ve ever presented, with verses spun on Teenage Fanclub dreams that morph from sunshower to full on golden rays before the chorus even has the chance to hit, and when it does, bringing on the “na na na na” chants and triple-layered major chord sugar-chimed guitars and cooing vocalisms, it’s strong enough to wash away negative toxins by the handful. “Future Love” does that singular Ride thing where the lyrics, obviously hung up on a lover that recently walked out the door, are draped in so much dazed empathy and infatuated wonder that not a single ounce of betrayal or displeasure bleed through. It’s a metaphysical love, beyond human contact or relationship circumstances, obliterating all distance and situational detail, with the whole thing set to soar on a circular treble riff and “Byrds on MDMA” harmonies. There are so many choruses on this song it’s almost deconstructionist in its shrugging off of traditional structure. The verses are choruses. The bridge is a chorus within the chorus of a different bridge. And the choruses themselves unfold into other choruses that you never see coming.
There’s certainly more experimentation going on here than on “Weather Diaries”. With its whacky ’80s bounce and Kraftwerk shouted chorus, “Repetition” utterly confused a lot of Ride fans when released as an advance single, but in the context of the record it works well as a playful little detour that takes nothing away from the weight of the proceedings. The old Ride would never have dared put this track on an album, and the daring sense of fun seems to suit them just fine. “Shadows Behind The Sun” can be heard as a different type of experiment, a tricky one where Mark and Andy sat down to construct a song that sounded like if prime-era Oasis actually did sound like The Beatles and came minus all the hype and bombast. They pull it off admirably. And then there’s opening track, the prophetically named “R.I.D.E.” which gleefully joins the pantheon of “we’re a veteran band with a dedicated cult so if we want to name a song after ourselves, we absolutely will” late-career self-titled songs, and it’s an absolute trip to hear these generally glum (if dreamy) trad rockers sprinkle some hip hop fairy dust into their latest spliff.
Anyone tuning in for the type of gee-tar ripping banger the Rides have been churning out at least once per album since “Drive Blind” (this is, after all, an alleged “shoegaze” band that covers “I Wanna Be Your Dog” live), then hone right in on “Kill Switch” which is an absolute scorched-earth belter rightfully stripped of any nuance or discernible melody line. These dudes may be pushing 50, but there’s a lot of wind and grit in those sails and this is arguably their most supercharged, sparking rager yet.
At the other end of the auditory spectrum, “Dial Up” is an autumnal and achingly pretty soft-strummed folkie workout that suggests the Ridesters may have a solid all acoustic EP under their fedoras in the future. And it just doesn’t get much prettier than “In This Room”, an opaque journey through enmeshed regrets and joys that coasts on one of the most hymnal melody lines they’ve ever come up with. One of Ride’s strengths has always been knowing when to keep it concise and when to, ahem, just let it ride and on this one they seem to instinctively know that most of their base will want to bask in this glory for at least eight minutes.
As a fan who adored the “Weather Diaries” comeback, I really couldn’t be happier with this follow up. Not only does it build on advances and quirks that record only hinted at, but it does so in a more streamlined and consistent fashion. There isn’t a single skipper on here, and whoever came up with this track sequence seems to have done so with coherence and fullness of vision firmly in mind. This Is Not A Safe Place doesn’t have the feel of a band on a post-reunion victory lap. This is a group settling into an exciting new trajectory and ready to hurtle it out into whichever cosmos it’s bound for.