CD: Ride - This Is Not A Safe Place The shoegaze legends' comeback is still going strong
It's been two years since Ride came back from a 20-year break with their reunion LP, Weather Diaries. Fans considered the album a triumph. This is Not a Safe Place, though, is a notch above. It's 50 minutes of intoxicating and contrasting moods that move from dreamy indie to post-punk. Underpinning the music is a sense of finding your identity in an increasingly disconnected and polarised world.
Intriguingly then, it wasn't contemporary Britain but 1980s New York that first inspired the album. Or rather, the city as portrayed by street-art maverick Jean Michel Basquiat. In 2018 guitarist Andy Bell saw an exhibition of Basquiat's stark, alienated figures. Afterwards, he felt compelled to sit down with his guitar. The songs that emerged had a spiky, nervy energy. Bell took them to producer DJ Erol Alkan. The rest of the band later joined in, with themes that ranged from love to grief.
The first half takes the listener on an often visceral journey. Unnerving electronic sounds ("R.I.D.E") give way to jangle-pop ("Future Love"), and then on to the avant-garde kraut-rock ("Kill Switch"). The juxtaposition is bold and jarring. As the album progresses the dynamics become less pronounced. The second half starts with a nervy, indie vibe ("15 minutes") and ends awash with soft hooks and lush harmonies – a little like their shoegaze past, just gentler.
The real standout moments, though, come when the band's sound moves on to new territory. "Repetition" is an infectious, dancy, art-rock look at fake news. By complete contrast, "Shadows Behind the Sun" finds singer Mark Gardener doing his best Nick Drake impression.
Not all the songs are quite as immediate. "Jump Jet", for instance, need to be listened to half-a-dozen times before it really works. But it doesn't matter. The best Ride albums have always required total sonic (if not lyrical) immersion to work their magic. And this is up there with their best.