Ride have made an album that sounds vibrant and an all-around joy, even if it isn’t perfect.
Credit has to be given to Ride to how they’ve chosen to go about their reunion now that their status as shoegaze/dream-pop deities is pretty much cemented. They could have gone and made Nowhere forever and their fans likely wouldn’t have batted an eye. Not only did they not do that, they’ve firmly rooted their new music in the groovy psychedelia that’s become huge on the festival circuit lately while also nodding to their own explorations of psych-rock that aren’t nearly as revered or respected as their early shoegaze work. In short, Ride are doing exactly the opposite of what people would want out of a Ride reunion. While it throws a few bones towards those who may have felt that Weather Diaries wasn’t enough of a dreamy album, This Is Not a Safe Place largely continues the neo-psychedelic trends from its predecessor while also giving the band more room to jam and occasionally rock out.
If Safe Place stands out in any way from other Ride releases, it’s in its playfulness. In the past, Ride songs could be characterized as thoughtful in their dreaminess or reverent in how they treated their sonic experimentation or their direct inspirations. No one would ever really classify a Ride album as “fun,” yet Safe Place comes about as close as the band has ever come to being fun. The album opens with a stutter of electronics and thumping drum machines that cut out for a voice in the distance to announce the band’s name, as if Andy Bell and Mark Gardener decided they needed a theme song. It’s a harbinger for the album as a whole in tone if not in sound: this time around, Ride sound relaxed and more willing to cut loose, freed of any expectations for what they should sound like.
What they do end up sounding like varies from song to song. More so than on Weather Diaries, the band seem more than happy to offer up some more shoegaze-y tunes this time around. Lead single “Future Love” could lead one to wonder if they were listening to a DIIV album by accident, until one realizes that DIIV couldn’t write hooks like this. “Kill Switch” finds the band doing Swervedriver better than Swervedriver have been doing Swervedriver lately, and “Clouds of Saint Marie” is an effervescent slice of pop that should stand alongside some of the band’s best singles. In periods, Safe Place offers some of the best music Ride have made since Going Blank Again, and they truly sound like a reinvigorated artistic entity.
Unfortunately, that freedom and reinvigoration also comes with a helping of self-indulgence. Ride aren’t strangers to letting their songs stretch out, but the longer jams don’t feel grand so much as they feel exhausting this time around. Rather than unfolding slowly and presenting new ideas around each corner, songs like “Eternal Recurrence” and “In This Room” end up feeling a bit flabby. They sound as if the band just keep playing because they can, not because the song needs them to. While Ride have certainly earned the right to indulge themselves a little bit, it’s moments like these that prevent This Is Not a Safe Place from being the triumph it could be.
Truthfully, Ride probably won’t make the sort of crowd-pleasing reunion album that the likes of Slowdive have already made, and it’s probably too late for them to make an album like that. However, if This Is Not a Safe Place is the best we can expect from a rebooted Ride, then that’s more than enough. Rather than making something perfunctory as an excuse to go out and play “Vapour Trail” and “Twisterella” for crowds who long for it to be 1991 again, Ride have made an album that sounds vibrant and an all-around joy, even if it isn’t perfect.