I can’t deny I was well-disposed to loving Slowdive’s first album in twenty-two years even before I heard the whole thing. But that bias was a double-edged sword. Sure, they could play the classics well, but would Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, et al. really be able to recapture the magic that made their earlier recordings such essential listens for me?
Just how kind had time been to Slowdive, I worried, especially after many of its members had been doing their own thing for so long (e.g., Halstead and Simon Scott’s solo careers, Christian Savill’s long-running Monster Movie project)? And would anything they released be able to live up to two decades’ worth of expectations?
I did my best to avoid any pre-album hype aside from listening to the first singles — “Star Roving” and “Sugar for the Pill” — a responsible yet unobsessive number of times. But as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Slowdive is exactly the sort of album I’d hoped Slowdive would release after two decades of silence.
Slowdive certainly contains plenty of classic shoegaze material, replete with seemingly endless layers of shimmery, effects-laden guitars, hazy male/female harmonies, and rainy day melodies. “Slomo” and “Don’t Know Why” pick up right where the “old school” Slowdive sound left off thanks to effortlessly golden guitar sounds and breathless vocals. (Goswell in particular sounds as lovely as ever on these songs.)
Early single “Sugar for the Pill” (which gets my vote for the album’s best song) is a gently unfolding and exquisitely sad ballad made all the more affecting by Halstead’s world-weary vocals and lyrics (“And I rolled away/Said we never wanted much… Our love has never known the way”) and a beautifully subdued climax. Later, “Go Get It” taps into the same blissed-out-yet-edgy atmospherics that made “Souvlaki Space Station” such a heady experience.
But as immediately identifiable as it may be — the group handily stands out from the many acolytes they’ve acquired over the years — Slowdive is more than a mere nostalgia trip. A careful listen reveals some new sonic elements: the watery vocals and gauzy Wolfgang Voigt-esque textures on “Slomo”; the synthetic filigrees and phased vocal interplay on “Go Get It”; and most notably, Simon Scott’s subtle loops and manipulations that flicker throughout “Falling Ashes.” A piano-based ballad, “Falling Ashes” is the most atypical Slowdive song… well, ever. While it resembles Pygmalion’s minimalism, it possesses a warmer glow and ends the album on an intriguing note concerning future endeavors.
It’s easy to say the influential shoegazers have done right by their fans with Slowdive. Truth be told, I find it hard to believe that any longtime fans could be disappointed by what they hear. (As for myself, I just feel gratitude.) More importantly, though, Slowdive have done right by themselves.
Slowdive makes it abundantly clear that the five-piece don’t feel imprisoned by their celebrated sound, nor do they feel obliged to simply cash in on or retread expected territory. Rather, they sound older and wiser, yes, but also as fascinated and excited by “the Slowdive sound” as ever, the ensuing decades having done nothing to diminish that.
The band have also released the “Avalon Emerson’s Gilded Escalation” remix of “Sugar for the Pill.” Though plenty atmospheric, it’s a far cry from their usual shoegaze sound. Instead, it recalls their forays into electronic music, particularly the remixes on 1993’s 5 EP.