[sic] Magazine

Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born To Lose You

Reviewed by Paul Lockett.

For some people, the late 80s/early 90s are best remembered as like living through a drug-fuelled haze while listening to acid house records and wearing baggy t-shirts displaying smiley yellow faces (yes kids, really!). For others, like myself, they represented a voyage of discovery. Some people will (wrongly) claim that music was in an abyss, that it had lost its way. While it’s fair to say that scenes such as Acid House passed me completely by, it wasn’t all bad. There was a burgeoning indie scene being pioneered by a small number of loud, guitar bands many of them sporting shaggy haircuts, who stood almost static on stage playing their instruments while staring down at the floor. The music press at the time (Melody Maker was one of the main protagonists) rather unfairly described these bands as “shoegazing” due to the lack of energy on stage and the (often undeniable) observation that many of them simply preferred to stare at their own feet rather than into the crowd. Possibly even more unfairly, because many of the bands originated from the Oxford to London ‘Thames corridor’, they were pigeonholed by the music press as “The Scene That Celebrates Itself” – something initially highlighted by Melody Maker after many of the bands cited each other as influences when interviewed by the magazine. So it was that Slowdive rated Ride, Curve and Lush as favourites. And Lush? They rated Slowdive, Ride & Curve.

You get the picture.

Any lack of on-stage energy, however, was more than compensated for by the tidal wave of sound being transferred through the speakers. It was like nothing I’d previously heard. Deafening – yes, but more than that, it sounded simply incredible. There appeared to be layers upon layers of distorted guitars being driven through multiple effect boxes such as chorus, flanger & digital delay. Often these were accompanied by melodic vocals which would sit just on top of the instrumentation, neither screaming “look at me” nor fading into the background. Believe me when I tell you that when the shoegaze scene appeared, it was an absolute breath of fresh air. In a few years, the scene would be all but wiped out by the inevitable rise of grunge – and predominantly the success of Nirvana.

You’ll have noticed I’ve not mentioned Swervedriver up to this point. That’s because at around the same time as the shoegaze scene, another scene existed – called “Grebo” music. This tended to comprise of bands who made a spiky, almost dancey, more “in-your-face” form of indie pop. We’re talking about bands such as The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Rather unfairly, I heard ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’, Swervedriver’s debut single, in July 1990 and decided there and then that Swervedriver definitely belonged in the “Grebo” camp rather than “Shoegaze”. I say “rather unfairly” because I’ve now (finally) realised the error of that decision. That’s because I Wasn’t Born To Lose You is good. Very good indeed.

I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, Swervedriver’s first album for 17 years, is also their fifth. It’s definitely not what I would describe as typical shoegaze – that’s if it’s actually “shoegaze” at all. Not that it even matters! In fact, the guitars are more typical of bands such as Hüsker Dü and possibly even The Stooges. They’re layered, melodic and sometimes hypnotic. For instance, ‘English Subtitles’ sports some gorgeous guitar work and very hummable melodies which match the sunny sleeve photography perfectly. In fact, it’s a great song for Summer – when Adam Franklin sings “Darkness on the other side” repeatedly towards the end of the track, you really believe that he means it. Not that the album’s full of sunshine, mind – ‘Red Queen Arms Race’ turns things decidedly darker with its distorted pulsating bass groove, backwards-reverb vocals and wah-wah guitars. First single ‘Setting Sun’ once again has a Summery feel – but with those minor chords in the mix, it definitely feels like there are rainclouds on the horizon.

The one thing which really stands out for me is how this album stands up as a great piece of work in 2015 – it’s a truly captivating listen. One play of ‘For A Day Like Tomorrow’ should be all that it takes to convince you to part with your hard-earned cash; the fade-out of this track alone is simply sublime. I could easily imagine this album spawning several singles – ‘For A Day Like Tomorrow’, ‘Last Rites’ and ‘English Subtitles’ all scream to be released as 7”s – but maybe that’s a stretch in 2015 where the “kids” download just the tracks they’ve enjoyed hearing on the radio. That would be unfair with an album like this one – it deserves to be heard as a complete story – after all, you wouldn’t realistically purchase just chapters 3, 4 and 7 of a ‘Harry Potter’ book would you?

I don’t know what triggered the shoegaze scene into suddenly waking up from a long, deep sleep – what with Slowdive returning to play some European festivals, and both Swervedriver & Ride touring the UK in May on separate headlining tours. Whatever happens, I’m stoked that that it’s here again – especially if the quality of new music is as good as I Wasn’t Born To Lose You.

Official website.