It pays to be wary when bands of yore come reforming, the suspicion all-too-often one of bank balance replenishment posing as creative renaissance.
This is not a concern applicable to Slowdive; their first album since 1995’s Pygmalion is deep, textured, relevant and necessary. And while the sonic palette is familiar from first time around – each pedal-doused swirl of guitar; the distant, refracted boy/girl vocals – any (lazy) accusation of shoegaze revivalism is nimbly side-stepped by the contemporary context underpinning each composition. Eight tracks, lyrically conscious that time has passed since we last trod this path, and further augmented by the scope modern recording techniques afford.
It helps, of course, that Neil Halstead is a formidable (if under-rated) songwriter. Yet Slowdive have never been about the individual, and after reconvening a few years back as a touring act, the currents of collaboration ride high, here. Opener Slomo is pinioned to its subtle loops, subjugating the floated guitar and all that fragmented tenderness. Next, and lead track Star Roving is uncharacteristically pacey, Rachel Goswell’s breathy vox the counterpoint to Halstead’s channelled understatement.
When it comes to the quintet’s sound, contrast has always been a focal point; deep-seated and frequently subtle, unfurling with delicate grace. Slowdive underlines that facet; it’s at turns wistful, reflective and personal (particularly on the beautiful Sugar for the Pill – 'Can't abide the sun, this jealousy will break the whole,' Halstead laments), then full of hope (Everyone Knows; No Longer Making Time, the effervescence of the chorus guitar-gilded and buzz-inducing).
But it’s the final two tracks where that contrast is pulled centre-stage. Go Get It positions its shimmering verse against a cinder-block bass line and the bruising urgency of the chorus; an element of refined desperation reminiscent of mid-period Talk Talk.
And to finish: Falling Ashes. A stark, ghostly, bitter-sweet ballad, constructed around a piano motif, the underlying emotion is one of heart-break.
So; a successful comeback? Well, yeah… but it’s also something more than that. Slowdive represents an awareness of legacy, and the importance of not pissing all over it; to that extent, it’s an essential addition to canon.
Listen to: Sugar for the Pill, Falling Ashes
Buy Slowdive - Slowdive on LP/CD from Norman Records