Ride’s ‘Going Blank Again’ turns 30, went beyond ‘Nowhere’ and shoegaze, brilliantly
How do you follow up an instant classic? For the UK indie scene of the late-'80s and early-'90s it proved to be a tough act. Primal Scream went from the amazing Screamadelica to a regrettable foray into bluesy, heroin chic rock n' roll with Give Out But Don't Give Up; The Stone Roses' Second Coming was anything but; Happy Mondays took the Pills N' Thrills N' Bellyaches party over the edge on Yes, Please; and My Bloody Valentine spent 22 years trying to make another album after Loveless.
Ride, however, had no such problems following up their 1990 debut, Nowhere, one of the defining albums of the original shoegaze era. The band spent a year touring Nowhere, a fertile period where they were writing constantly, trying out new songs at soundchecks and dropping the ones they really liked into their setlist. In the fall of 1991, fresh off tour, Ride went back into the studio with Nowhere producer Alan Moulder who encouraged them to reach beyond the scene that celebrates itself and experiment with new sounds and instrumentation. Together they created a mammoth psychedelic rock album that burned off the haze of their earlier work and brought their best qualities -- musicianship, songwriting, harmonies -- into sharp focus.
Released on March 8, 1992 in the UK by Creation Records and the next day in the US by Sire, Going Blank Again was the sound of utter confidence backed up by great songs, creative arrangements, muscular playing and production that makes everything shine. You feel it from the first song, "Leave Them All Behind," a towering statement of intent that mixed shoegaze guitar heroics with one of their best-ever basslines, constant crushing drum fills, elements of dance music, and organ cribbed from The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." It thrills across all eight minutes, and is one of the great album-openers -- and set-openers -- of all time.
From there, Ride shift gears into further new territory and one of their best-ever pop songs, Mark Gardner's "Twisterella," a song influenced by Stax and Motown but full of chiming guitars that sound loud enough to shatter glass. Their crushing volume was not lowered on Going Blank Again, they merely wiped away the reverb and let the sunshine in. Ride's magic was softening the blow of their cranked-to-11 instrumentation with gossamer harmonies. Few bands did more with "ahhhhhs" than them, and nearly every song on the album has one of these bliss-out moments. A few of the songs -- the glorious "Mouse Trap" and "Not Fazed" -- feel like they're all ahhhs. "Who needs lyrics anyway," Andy Bell joked on Tim's Twitter Listening Party in 2020.
Ride were also not afraid to put down their electric guitars, either. "Chrome Waves," another of the album's highlights, rides a crest of synthesizers, acoustic guitars and more ahhhs. Inspired directly by Massive Attack's "Unfinished Symphony," the song also has drummer Loz Colbert doing his own very credible take on the much-sampled Soul Searchers "Ashley's Roachclip" beat. This one should've been the third single.
There might be no song that equals the majesty of Nowhere's "Vapour Trail" (which, amazingly, was never released as a single in the UK), but Going Black Again has the deeper bench of Deep Cuts: the pummeling, joyful "Mouse Trap," "Cool Your Boots" which samples Withnail & I and has Colbert trying to knock his drums through your speakers with a constant barrage of fills, and the racing "Time of Her Time" which is another amazing showcase for Colbert's skills behind the kit. There's also the breezy, kitschy "Making Judy Smile" that the band dismiss as fluff but has a perfect little solo and what may be my favorite moment on the album, when the guitars drop out and Bell and Gardner harmonize, "Just my way of saying 'hi.'" That's not to mention the baroque beauty of "Time Machine," and the album's sweeping closing track, "OX4," which, like a lot of the album, is happy to ride one chord progression into outer space, forever.
Going Blank Again was nearly a double album. Ride had some 26 tracks ready to go and Creation Records boss Alan McGee was willing to indulge them but their US label Sire Records suggested they trim it down. "I can't remember if that was a hollow threat, or just a friendly suggestion but it certainly worked," bassist Steve Queralt told The Quietus in 2012. "It made us come to our senses." (It was actually a double album on vinyl, but 50 minutes was pretty common in the era of CD bloat.) A few of the excised tracks were used as intros to other songs on the back half of the album, like the dubby "King Bullshit" which serves as a lead-in to "Time Machine," and one of Loz Colbert's first songs presented to the group, "Blue," makes a brief appearance in the opening of "OX4." "King Bullshit," and a few others, were later released on the Firing Blanks: Unreleased Recordings disc that was part of the 2001 OX4 box set.
So what keeps Going Blank Again from being known as a classic like -- or maybe even better than -- Nowhere? GBA is arguably superior, but Nowhere is arguably the first great album of the UK shoegaze scene (My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything is more proto-shoegaze), and it was also out before the winds shifted. Especially in America. Right as Ride were going into the studio in 1991, Nirvana released Nevermind, a record that changed everything; a British guitar band wouldn't make dent on the US charts again until Oasis. In the UK, the album did well, debuting at #5 and going gold, and "Leave Them All Behind" went Top 10, but "Twisterella" fizzled out and Creation opted to not release any more singles from the LP. "Twisterella" probably would've been a Britpop hit two years later, but Ride were slightly ahead of the curve. When they made a more blatant grab for that ring with 1994's better-than-remembered Carnival of Light, it rang a little hollow.
Going Blank Again has aged remarkably well, though, an album that existed between scenes that had them moving forward but also perhaps slipping through the cracks. "Either it didn’t associate itself clearly with a particular movement in music at the time, or there just wasn’t a movement in music at the time," Loz Colbert said in 2013. "It happened on its own."