Sound — 9
There are plenty of cases where revelatory artists weren't appreciated during their time. Vincent van Gogh made nearly a thousand paintings without getting any decent recognition, Walt Whitman's freeform poetry opus Leaves of Grass only became a massive success long after his death, and before being regarded as one of the most influential bands in the original shoegazing scene, Slowdive were faced with adversity and critical disdain at nearly every turn in their career. With their style of music being considered self-indulgent and passé for the '90s, Slowdive limped along through their contract with Creation Records, eventually being dropped by the label promptly after the release of their third album, 1995's "Pygmalion." Shortly after that, Slowdive disbanded, likely taking all of those hardships as signs that they just couldn't go on.
Years afterwards, however, and Slowdive's short career became more and more celebrated. Whether due to critics retroactively lauding the band's second album, 1993's "Souvlaki," as one of the most important albums for the shoegazing subgenre, or seeing a fresh new wave of indie rockers drawing influence from the previously despised style, Slowdive went from a blip on the music radar to being regarded as a brilliant band that was phased out too soon. But with that latter point, this lionization of Slowdive eventually led to the band's resurrection in 2014, to much fanfare.
With Slowdive now releasing their first album in over twenty years, they do it in an artistic atmosphere completely opposite of the contentious and self-doubting environment they weathered while making their first three records. As validating as that may be, it's nevertheless a daunting task for any band to make an album after being inactive for so long; doubly so for a band held in such high regard. But in the eight new songs presented, Slowdive capture a nearly perfect picture of the different forms of shoegaze rock.
As the opening "Slomo" acts as a classic Slowdive recipe of warm tonal textures, fragile melodies and murmuring vocals that are tough to discern yet still catchy, the band then kick into an atypically energetic gear. The following "Star Roving, which lets the strong guitars and fuzzy bass lead the way, is the most vigorous song Slowdive have ever made, and while drummer Simon Scott kicks into a surprisingly speedy tempo for "Don't Know Why," the glimmering guitars and wistful vocal tradeoff between Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell maintain their dreamy demeanor.
From there, the energy mellows out to a lower gear Slowdive are more familiar with. That lower gear, of course, results in morose songwriting that's most expected for shoegazing, like the spatial guitar riffs that gingerly flutter atop an Interpol-esque bassline in "Sugar For The Pill," or the melancholy progression fortified with an overcast of hazy textures in "No Longer Making Time." But Slowdive also conjure some uplifting moods in this lower gear: the chiming guitar chords and Goswell's high range makes "Everyone Knows" more whimsical than woeful, and the quiet-to-loud dynamic of "Go Get It" bolstering its melody into something absolutely soaring.
Saving their saddest, slowest and longest song for last, "Falling Ashes" feels like a callback to Slowdive's songwriting in the experimental "Pygmalion." Primarily driven by a minimal piano melody (similarly as the continuous minimal riffs in "Miranda" or "J's Heaven") and supporting Rhodes piano chords, other elements come in to sully its delicate build, from bits of static noises, to minimal guitar riffs purposefully out of synch with the main melody. Its oddities help make the ballad more than just a ballad, but being the most way-out song on the album may arguably make it the weak spot in an otherwise very solid album.
Lyrics — 8
Halstead's lyrics in "Slowdive" stick to his favored themes of the enchanting high one gets from love and affection, and while they aren't as fantastical as his lyrics in the '90s, the narrative arc that's seen from front to back offers a more forlorn and relatable expansion on the subject. Starting out riding on the enamoring surge of emotion in "Slomo" ("You give me your heart, it's a curious thing / Give me your love, it's a curious love") and "Star Roving" ("In a flash of time / Said she's feeling love for everyone tonight"), it promptly goes sour in "Don't Know Why" ("Don't remember much about it all / Just saw you loving someone else"). Halstead expresses his grief over an inability to return to that blissful past in "Sugar For The Pill" ("Just a rollercoast’ / Our love has never known the way") and grows very pessimistic about what had spoiled in "No Longer Making Time" ("Who cares, anyways? / Oh Lord, I remember those days / And all those nights / When you wanted so much more"), but the ending "Falling Ashes" shows Halstead turning the other cheek and wistfully enjoying that former love, even if it only lives on as a memory ("California, I thought I saw ya / Love of my life, grace of my night / Thinking about love, thinking about love").
Overall Impression — 9
Slowdive's return to music shows the band picking up their shoegazing style not just with natural ease, but with plenty new ideas to make their comeback album accomplish more than their first three albums did. Both pulling qualities their earlier music wielded decades ago, and qualities that later indie rock acts added along the way, Slowdive's fourth self-titled album sits on an ideal intersection of atmospheric, energetic, ambient and melodic, feeling just right in all it attempts. Being the perfect happy ending for both a band who initially had a rough career, and a widespread fanbase who wanted history to appreciate the band more, "Slowdive" is a triumphant return for Slowdive in every which way.