Slowdive - Souvlaki


Released 1993 on Creation
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 04/07/2007ce

1.Alison (3:52)
2.Machine Gun (4:27)
3.Days (3:15)
4.Sing (4:49)
5.Here She Comes (2:20)
6.Souvlaki Space Station (5:59)
7.When the Sun Hits (4:47)
8.Altogether (3:42)
9.Melon Yellow (3:53)
10.Dagger (3:44)

Reissued on Sanctuary in 2005 in a two disc expanded edition containing a second disc featuring material from the 5 and Outside Your Room releases.

Neil Halstead – vocals; guitar
Rachel Goswell – vocals; guitar
Nick Chaplin – bass
Christian Savill – guitar
Simon Scott – drums
Brian Eno – keyboards; oblique strategies tracks 4 & 5

DREAM POP…They came from Reading…and initially Slowdive (not named after the Siouxsie & the Banshees song of the same name, even though they probably were!) were a band who received some gushing reviews for their post-rave comedown aspirations, Simon Reynolds was still quite kind about them in an annotation to a piece on the scene that became known as shoegazing. Within a year of their 1990 debut e.p. on Creation, Slowdive would be nailed to a media scene, several in fact – the scene generally known as Shoegazing, and sometimes as Shoegaze (if going on an American take on it, Interpol’s Carlos D used gaze rather than gazing in a recent blog on the Guardian Unlimited site), and sometimes as Dream Pop, which might have been a term Reynolds or Steve Sutherland came up with when fussing over AR Kane in the late 80s? The Dream Pop one, I always thought was more American – though the tag, for this fringe/f.x. pedal heavy souls from Thames Valley was the derogatory the Scene That Celebrates Itself (coined by a dead music paper).

THE SCENE THAT CELEBRATES ITSELF…That was a media term that really focused on the fact these bands tended to be seen together and often seemed to be getting wasted in each other’s presence…round up the usual suspects? : pre-Popscene Blur, The Boo Radleys, Catherine Wheel, Chapterhouse, Curve, Lush, Moose, Pale Saints, Revolver, Ride, our heroes for today Slowdive, Swervedriver, and Thousand Yard Stare. Odd as some of those bands weren’t particular shoegazy and in the case of Blur, not even indie. Nailed to this scene that celebrated itself, Slowdive ended up getting rejected by the press and public, especially when grunge came along (you could tell this when watching Chapterhouse playing above Nirvana at Reading 1991). Slowdive lost a drummer, continued into electronic climes with third album Pygmalion, and were dropped soon after – three members going on to form Mojave 3, a 4AD band.

MORE THAN HITLER…Probably the most famous thing about Slowdive is a smart-arse quote from the missing member of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards James, who came out with the kind of practiced line that Bobby Gillespie does now (…you know, trying to be a bit provocative like Genesis P Orridge in the late 70s…): “I hate Slowdive more than Hitler.” Oh the irony, though it was the early 90s and this was after punk flirtation with the Swastika, after Joy Division, after Serge’s ‘Nazi Rock’, after Brian Jones donning one, after The Residents’ Third Reich’N’Roll, after Nail by Foetus, etc. I don’t mind the odd Manics song, and like the idea of naïve passion and trying to be the New York Dolls after Chomsky, but they are a pretty dreary band, especially after The Holy Bible. Slowdive weren’t political or into Clash-type sloganeering, they seemed a bit hippy and very HEAD – the cliché that had to be wiped out by the punk cliché in the 1970s, you know, we didn’t fight them on the beaches of Normandy to come up with this? What to expect from a band like the Manics who wanted the mainstream?

SKY/HIGH/FLY…Slowdive probably need context, this was a relatively pleasant period – after the Summer of Love, after Ecstasy, after the end of the Cold War, after Madchester, after Acid House, and after a whole wave of new variants of rock music. There were folk like Cocteau Twins, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Spacemen 3 surfacing in the early to mid 80s, giving way to bands like AR Kane, Galaxie 500, Hugo Largo, Loop, My Bloody Valentine, and Ultra Vivid Scene – bands who were stretching rock into odd places, centring on blessed out guitars, slow hypnotic elements, feedback, and ethereal vocals. The kids of This Mortal Coil? In this slipstream came young bands like Chapterhouse, Ride and Slowdive, who did their own version of what folk like MBV were doing. So, I guess this was just like all those bands who aped The Beatles, Sabbath or the Pistols, some of them discovering their own thing? Added to that, genres were breaking down and people weren’t being restricted to the indie-alt ghetto, Primal Scream went from a bad Stooges/Stones approximation to an E-inflected outfit, and Kevin Shields released a limited edition track based around a Public Enemy instrumental. Then there was the late 80s take on Krautrock, Fools Gold by the Stone Roses and Hallelujah by Happy Mondays nodding to acid house and hip hop, and especially Halleluwah and related recordings from the early 70s by Can. The new wave of bands appeared to all be buying the Byrds box set and familiar with the Velvets – it was this point where everything was appearing on cd. Was the music comedown? Was it an indie version of ambient? Had these bands spent too long above the chemist on a diet of Budd, Cocteaus, Eno and Tangerine Dream? I quite like the fact that war seemed over; even though it wasn’t with Iraq in 1991 and the Balkans issue, and that there was nothing left to protest about. So vaguely cooing words are stated beneath the sonic maelstrom…life is but a dream? ; though I recall hearing Mogwai’s first LP and thinking it sounded so right not to have words. I guess these words are sometimes of the sky/high/fly-variety and analogous to the vague rubbish that most 60s bands emitted in the past. Not Jello Biafra or Michael Franti then…

SOMETHING TRANSCENDENTAL…Slowdive’s first wave of e.p.’s - Slowdive (1990), Morningrise (1991) and Holding Our Breath (1991)- went down quite well, though it was amusing that their one fast song was nixed by Alan McGee! I quite liked the idea, which seemed apparent with early Ride and Slowdive, of an inverse Joy Division – where people listened and watched Joy Division with that power, it was negative, drawing into the vortex of Curtis’ lyrics, vocals and performance as the band played minimally around him. JD weren’t great musicians, and neither were Ride or Slowdive – but there seemed to be a power, something transcendental above it all. Ride, Slowdive and a few of the others seemed to have this, though it was one centred on bliss, rather than destruction, and one that was positive, which is always less alluring than the allure of a gothic abyss. &, of course, no one died. So, maybe Slowdive were an indie part of the Daisy Age style positivity at the time? The records made sense next to Virgin ambient compilations, late period Talk Talk, Chill Out by the KLF (sorry to mention Drummond), Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld by The Orb, Rain Tree Crow, Cranes, This Mortal Coil, Heaven or Las Vegas, Ultramarine, Bark Psychosis, Seefeel, Spiritualized, The Telescopes, the ambient parts on Screamadelica, Dead Can Dance, The Aphex Twin, Black Dog Productions, Autechre, Loveless, Rite etc…Many different ways to spin around ambient head music, it seemed. An emphasis on inner space – which is why it became a bit depressing that, after the horrors of grunge and Britpop, that whining self pity came back into vogue in 1997 with OK Computer, Urban Hymns and all that.

OTHER DIRECTIONS…Slowdive’s debut LP was recorded and released quickly, though by then, they were kind of over in many a critic’s eye – tagged with those derogatory terms and probably seen as the ideal support band for Ride (I did see them support Ride once, just before the first e.p. came out, this was the time when the bassist still worked in the same branch of Our Price as me!). I saw them a few times after, very late at Reading University (we didn’t mind hitching home, stoned and slightly blessed out after), at the Old Trout in Windsor (when everything seemed to slow down), and at the Shoegaze-heavy Slough festival of 1991 that featured Curve, Slowdive and Ride amongst others. I guess a lot of these bands in a Cocteaus/MBV wake seemed a bit irrelevant after the release of Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, which might be the reason why the material for Slowdive’s second LP was initially rejected. I’m sure all of those bands were confounded by Shields’ long awaited long player – some went off in other directions, the Catherine Wheel becoming more rock, nodding to Husker Du and shifting the odd unit in the US (while pretending not to be related to Bruce Dickinson). Ride dropped the FX pedals and deemed themselves classic songwriters, with the right kind of 60s record collection and reference points and a lot of dullness, that probably set the tone for Br*tpop. Blur went Britpop with Popscene, which sounded either Dexys or Teardrops, you’d say the latter with the Balfe-connection. Chapterhouse went kind of dance-pop, Revolver pretended to be more into Kylie than Ride, The Jennifers became Supergrass, The Boo Radleys became very eclectic (though did have an AR Kane member as producer at one point), Swervedriver were always more Dinosaur Jr, and Lush turned into The Cure, then a Riot Grrl inflected take on pop (after the obligatory Robin Guthrie-produced debut!). Even Cocteau Twins didn’t do very well, moving to a major label and getting compared to Enya!

THE DIFFICULT SECOND LP…The principle vocalists Goswell and Halstead were an item, and unbecame an item in the period prior to Souvlaki (a title apparently from a porn reference on a Jerky Boys LP), so this is the splitting-up album, as well as the difficult second LP. The opening track ‘Alison’ was very much in the style of Slowdive’s earlier stuff, so it seemed likely that they were merely continuing the sound of debut LP Just for a Day – though it was kind of a pop song too. The first half of Souvlaki is brighter, ‘Machine Gun’ playing off two sides of Slowdive and the male/female vocals, Goswell’s ethereal (c’mon, you were waiting for that word! – you won’t get the words cathedral or sonic from me though!!) Liz Fraser-inflections, and Halstead’s slightly more coherent vocals – though halfway through the song seems to drift off – I do wonder if the reissue I have is a dud?

ENO…‘Days’ sounds like prime Mary Chain playing a slower MBV-song, despite Slowdive’s soundscapes, there is a song here – so not that far from the Buckley/Drake-inflections of Mojave 3 and Halstead’s solo work. ‘Sing’ and ‘Here She Comes’ emanate from a session with Brian Eno, who was apparently a fan of Slowdive, employing some of his recording/production techniques here and adding keyboards. The sound is much spacier, an advance on the ambient dub directions of AR Kane on the classic sixty-nine LP, keyboards and synths adding textures to the Goswell lead vocal on ‘Sing’, feeling like a relative of the post-MBV, Warp-inflected, pre-Kid A electronica of Seefeel on their Quique LP (which has just been reissued in a similar double set). ‘Here She Comes’ is a brief ballad, again informed by Eno, and a definite indication of where Halstead would go when the electronica and soundscapes had been exhausted.

OUTSIDE YOUR ROOM…The second half of Souvlaki is where things get wilder, veering off in search of space and all that – ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ is an epic blend of Slowdive’s trademark chimes and drones centred around Goswell’s moondust sighs and Chaplin’s dubby-bass, which feels very Jah Wobble. Since no one else said it at the time, there is a definite hint of early Public Image Ltd here – not very often the bass seems at the centre of things (Primal Scream and Swervedriver were also employing these directions, as did Ride on a Massive Attack-style interlude on their Going Blank Again LP). ‘SSS’ has a companion on the second disc of the reissue, which comprises material from the Outside Your Room and 5 e.p. releases – ‘Moussaka Chaos’ an instrumental take of it. ‘When the Sun Hits’ meanwhile is a cleaner, more polished and better composed take on Slowdive’s earlier sound – not sure they could refine things much more?

MYSTERIOUS SKIN…‘Altogether’ feels like another slo-jam, making you realise that they probably had more in common with certain American bands who got better press: Codeine, Galaxie 500, Low…though it does sound a bit Beatles, anticipating the 60s thing that would infect the world when Britpop and Cool Britannia surfaced a few years later. ‘Melon Yellow’ takes us back into space, the chiming guitars are almost gothic and psychedelic, in the style of Screaming Trees – Halstead sounding unhappy, and the band exhausting their trademark sound, stretching things further. The final track ‘Dagger’ shifts mood completely, an acoustic based song about a sunshine girl that nods to the break-up between Goswell and Halstead – the latter would revisit this song a few years later on the Hope Blister’s It’s OK (which was a sequel to This Mortal Coil), while it would feature in Gregg Araki’s brilliant film Mysterious Skin (which also features a soundtrack by Harold Budd and Guthrie).

MAIN…The bonus disc adds to the album proper, the material from Outside Your Room particularly, from a brilliant cover of Lee & Nancy’s classic ‘Some Velvet Morning’ (up there with their cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair’), the bruised minimalism of ‘So Tired’, and the aforementioned companion to ‘Souvlaki Space Station.’ Released later in the year was the 5 e.p., which took Slowdive into more electronic climes, akin to Seefeel – these would be the direction of Pygmalion, an album that wasn’t pop and resulted in the band getting dropped by Creation. The electronics had come to the fore and clearly the drums, bass and guitars were needed less and less, so on one level, rock music was kind of over…though I think E.A.R. and Main took this approach to the outer-outer limit!

A NICER, GENTLER WAY…Slowdive don’t have an appalling reputation akin to the British music press in the early 90s now, a whole Shoegaze/Dream Pop subculture exists – though Halstead was a bit cagey about them when appearing as Mojave 3 on Mark Radcliffe last year. I guess the formula and the clichés of pale Caucasian kids stomping on FX pedals doesn’t work for everyone? Radiohead professed to having influenced the approach/sound of 2001’s Amnesiac (Jonny Greenwood apparently borrowed Slowdive’s quote “Our guitars are more clitoris substitutes than phallus ones – we stroke them in a nicer, gentler way. Which maybe explains why part of us need Brain Donor, Comets on Fire, Earth, Sunn o)) et al? Cocks and clits in equal measure?). The NME gave Souvlaki the classic reissue treatment a year or so ago, while the generation that followed has cited them, acts including Mogwai and Sigur Ros, as well as folk like Jenniferever, Sennen and the post shoegaze shoegazers. The influence can be detected elsewhere, from Interpol’s most fractal/dub moment ‘Specialist’, to similar sounding acts tagged with hipper labels like Math Rock, Post Rock, or Slocore: Explosions in the Sky, Fly Pan Am, Godspeed, Gwei Lo, Low etc. This felt like rock post-1988 say, and didn’t have much that came before, perhaps influenced by ambient approaches and textures, but none of the conformity or post modernity that would become the problem a year or so later. A much maligned band and a surprisingly durable record, though you might want to whack something intense and noisy afterwards…the conclusion? Noise doesn’t always need to annoy…They came from Reading-

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