Ride – OX4 The Best Of Ride

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

A decade or so ago, before Suede, before Radiohead, and before Oasis, four youngsters from Oxford propelled British guitar music onto the world stage at such a speed that not even they knew what had hit them. For a while, guitarist Andy Bell, drummer Loz Colbert, bassist Steve Queralt and singer / guitarist Mark Gardener (a fave with the ladies) were one of the biggest bands on the planet. They gave Creation Records its first ever Top Ten hit, filled the Albert Hall, and their tour of Japan sold out in 12 minutes.

They are cited as an influence by innumerable household names: Radiohead, the Gallaghers, Chemical Brothers, Sugergrass, Blur, Peter Buck, Tim Wheeler, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Courtney Love…and Billy Corgan, who went to every show they ever played in Chicago.

Now, the band have collectively decided to re-release their back-catalogue, re-mastered, with additional tracks from the EPs that were released around the same time as the albums. In addition, they have released OX4 – THE BEST OF RIDE, both as a stand-alone album and as part of a Box Set, alongside a recording of their triumphant live appearance at the Reading Festival in 1992 and FIRING BLANKS, a collection of unreleased tracks and demos.

FIRING BLANKS makes an interesting curio, and the live album captures the band at the top of their game (around the time I saw them live myself), but it’s OX4 that is really the essential purchase here. Weighted more towards the earlier, world-conquering period of the first few EPs and the astonishing NOWHERE album, this retrospective is both a fascinating chronological study of the evolution of Ride’s music and a reminder of just how damn brilliant they were.

From the wah-wahed thrash of the opening CHELSEA GIRL, the first song on the debut RIDE EP, through the wall of noise of DREAMS BURN DOWN and the beautiful, cello-soaked VAPOUR TRAIL, to the colossal eight-minute epic LEAVE THEM ALL BEHIND, this is the sound of a band effortlessly towering over the competition. Never mind the fact that they were all still in their early twenties at the time; these songs still sound awesome today.

In addition to CHELSEA GIRL, there are appearances from a couple of other EP tracks – DRIVE BLIND and UNFAMILIAR – which is an added bonus for those who have only heard the albums up until now (although they now also appear on the re-releases).

Of course, all this feedback-drenched majesty couldn’t last forever, partly because the band felt the need to move on…it was all starting to look too easy. Album number three, CARNIVAL OF LIGHT, saw the band take a sharp right-turn down the alleyway of psychedelic rock. Their grungey cover of HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FEEL? (by 60s garage-psych band The Creation, the band that gave Alan McGee’s label its name) was even produced by the legendary George Drakoulias, who had previously helmed albums by the Black Crowes and the Jayhawks.

By the time Ride released TARANTULA in March 1996 (here represented by the solitary BLACK NITE CRASH single), they had split up. Their last gig in the UK was as support to an up-and-coming Oasis, at the end of which Noel Gallagher apparently remarked, “It’s just as well we’re fucking good”.

So what now? Mark and Andy both followed Ride with their own bands (The Animalhouse and Hurricane #1, respectively), and funnily enough, Andy is now playing bass for Oasis and has even written a song for their next album. Radiohead also asked the band to play at their massive South Park gig this summer [2001], but unfortunately they have no intention of getting back together.

All we have left is this stunning collection of songs. Ride may be no more, but nothing lasts forever…certainly nothing this good anyway.

5 stars