Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Ride - Today Forever

Today Forever

Released 1991 on Creation
Reviewed by welbourn TEKH, 28/08/2004ce

Apart from a couple of posting at the end of last year by Jason Parkes, Ride have been conspicuous by their absence in recent times here on UNSUNG. To remedy this, I took it upon myself to champion one of the albums created by a band that, in recent years, appear to have slipped off the acclamation radar.

I began my task by making notes whilst listening to their debut LP ‘Nowhere’ (Creation 1990)(1), an album that I have always considered to be their most outstanding work. However, on reacquainting myself with their CDs, I was drawn to the conclusion that Ride never made the one truly brilliant album that they had always promised. With this thought in mind, my attentions turned to their EPs, for which they were initially renowned. For me, it was a straight choice between ‘Fall’ (Creation 1990) and ‘Today Forever’ (Creation 1991). After much deliberation, I chose ‘Today Forever’, for although ‘Fall’ is magnificent in itself, it simply contains the best bits of ‘Nowhere’. ‘Today Forever’ takes up the mantle where ‘Nowhere’ left off and provides a taster for their second LP ‘Going Blank Again’ (Creation 1992).

Ride hit the scene in the late 1980s and they were embraced by the music press as the pretty boys of the new ‘indie’ scene that would eventually evolve into the tenuous genre known as ‘Brit-pop’. But these guys were more than mere adolescent shoe-gazers, for their intense sound, captured on the ‘Chelsea Girl’ and ‘Play’ EPs, displayed a vitality that had been lacking in the music industry during the ‘Dark Ages’ of the 1980s. The combination of melody, and a thrashing, layered sound created a space uninhabited since the Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ back in 1980. A space we can experience before sleep takes us over and our dreams commence, a cosy safety-zone, but where the chaos of the universe is only a flutter of the eyelashes away.

‘Today Forever’ captures a vitality that is promised on ‘Going Blank Again’, but is never quite delivered. It contains urgency and a nonchalance that encapsulates what I then perceived Ride to be all about. I often wondered, as they released subsequent albums, if my understanding of them was at odds to what they themselves, always striving to achieve. My struggle with their sound and direction was mirrored in my own personal struggle, for by 1989, I had already turned 30 and for the first time, I was confronted by musicians that were no longer represented my own peer group, but a band that embodied a new rock ‘n’ roll generation.

At times, when Ride seemed to be making the least effort, they touched the sky and were truly awesome, but it was when they appeared to be striving for an unattainable pseudo-psychedelia, they appeared contrived and clumsy. Maybe that is why ‘Today Forever’ epitomises the greatness of the band, for it captures them in the final throws of their embryonic phase, before they lurched off onto a course that was contrary to their original intentions. Both ‘Carnival of Light’ (Creation 1994)(2) and ‘Tarantula’ (Creation 1996), highlight the differing and diverging songwriting styles of Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. A marriage that was once made in heaven, but eventually became a bitty and strained affair that was encapsulated in the lyrics of ‘Castle on the Hill’, a track from ‘Tarantula’ and portrayed the distance between the two principal songwriters.

The covers of the first three Ride EPs are beautiful and corporate, but the cover of ‘Nowhere’ was a departure from this intrinsic beauty. It featured a cold, presiding sea and displayed an embryonic wave – heavy and foreboding. This association with the sea was continued on the sleeve of ‘Today Forever’, but unlike the subtle, presiding wave of ‘Nowhere’, here a shark’s head lurches towards us, its cold eye, oblivious of its prey.

‘Today Forever’ literally kicks-off with ‘Unfamilar’, and Steve Queralt’s thudding bass and the explosive drumming of Laurence Colbert soon dismantle the thin, synth-etic shield that initially eased us in. At first, the track appears to follow the same head-space as ‘Seagull’ - the ‘Nowhere’ opener, but this ain’t no ‘Icarusian’ wing-thrash to the sun. Deep beneath the layered, glistening guitars lies the trick - a change of pace that continually punctuates the track enabling us to draw breathe and preparing us for a drifting voice, that when it appears, is lost and longing. The fact that we can’t make out all of the words makes us strain to hear what is being said, no lyrics appear on the sleeve and to comprehend fully would surely give the game away and spoil the illusion. Finally, we are left with only the stuttering and shinning guitars as Colbert and Queralt’s pounding relents and we are left with the ghost of what has passed.

In contrast, ‘Sennen’ is stripped bare and transparent and like the best Ride songs, is in no hurry to go anywhere. The backing track is a lush tapestry that interweaves with the gentle lyric. Throughout the entirety of this track we are bombarded by a raw, sustaining guitar that flits in and out and prepares us for a future onslaught. ‘But ‘Sennen’ is no filler, it portrays the underlying pop-sensibility that underpins the entirety of Ride’s work; from Nowhere’s delicious ‘Vapour Trail’ through to Tarantula’s ‘Mary Anne’.

‘Beneath’ is big-riff time as the song exposes the sheer weight and power of the band. Explosive, yet rhythmic, a layered sound powers us through the infinite guitar gear change. If your bag is ‘in your face’ guitar then this is not for you. The themes are hidden and covert and emerge when you least expect them.

Layer upon layer of mournful strumming accompanies the ghost like plea…. “Wake up see the sun, what’s done is done”. The backward reverb on the voice enables the listener to preempt the theme of ‘Today’ - a dream-like world that we can only access in our subconscious. The words are deliberately inaudible, they beg us to reach out to try to understand, but what is being conveyed here is beyond our comprehension. The constant, stubborn drumming that occasionally gives way to a metaphoric rolling which undermines the slumbering, trippy space that we have been led to. Searing sounds dip and dive and un-nerve our sanctity.

The track ends abruptly and we are left with nothing and we are left wanting - craving more, but this is the crucial key. One can only imagine that the actual session probably went on for ages and what we have here is an edited-down version. Hopefully, somewhere, this full session exists – maybe one day it will be made available to us. We can look back at the brave steps taken by Ride throughout their career including; ‘performing’ an obscure, un-commercial track like ‘Unfamiliar’ on Top of the Pops and releasing the ‘eight minutes and seventeen seconds worth’ of ‘Leave Them all Behind’ as a single in 1992. This was a brave step, considering that most of their peers at the time, were releasing three-minute pop songs.

It is difficult to believe that the ‘Today Forever EP’ is thirteen years old, but for me, it retains a mysterious secret, which I’m still unable to fathom. Its four tracks contain all of the key ingredients that made Ride’s other works good but never truly great. They were naïve but yet still purposeful, yet they conveyed a haunting beauty and had a pop sensibility way beyond their tender years.

1. The ‘Smile’ LP (Sire/Reprise 1990) combined the ‘Chelsea Girl - EP’ (Creation 1989) and ‘Play - EP’ (Creation 1990).
2. ‘Carnival of Light’ (Creation 1994) Produced by John Leckie and featured a guest appearance by Deep Puple’s Jon Lord on ‘Moonlight Medicine’. This album features the most brilliant single ‘Birdman’, a track written by Andy Bell and, in my opinion, is the only time Ride’s attempt at psychedelia really comes off. But by far the most outstanding track on the album is ‘From Time to Time’.

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