The year is 1997. Andy Bell, emerging from the wreckage of his old band, the mercurial Ride, two years previous, is on stage with his new band Hurricane No. 1. Bell, whose guitar-playing in Ride was once rich and expansive, now plays his instrument with rather less razzle-dazzle. Too late for the Britpop party, too early for the raw, garage-led rock revolution that would soon arrive, Hurricane No. 1 are a band who exist to perform on Soccer AM when the Lightning Seeds cannot make it.
Over the coming years, Bell will play bass in Oasis and guitar on Liam Gallagher’s later band Beady Eye. At what juncture Andy Bell chooses to call his former schoolfriend Mark Gardener, the man with whom he crafted three albums of always pretty, often lovelorn indie rock so many years ago, is anyone’s guess. And yet it’s clear within seconds of opening tune ‘R.I.D.E’ – an awkwardly groovy slice of dance-rock which often sounds like someone running a Boeing 747 through a wall of Marshall amps – that the Oxford band’s second album since their 2014 reformation benefits from a wealth of creativity and experimentation that Bell may well have been suppressing for over 20 years.
Gardener’s voice – fey, deliciously saccharine – entwines itself around the scaffold of the songwriting as seamlessly as it ever did, and yet these are songs far more interesting, daring even, than a band reformed should be delivering all these years on. ‘Future Love’ could have sat on any of those early albums (the first two Ride records, 1990’s ‘Nowhere’ and 1992’s ‘Going Blank Again’, are classics of the shoegazing genre). It’s the sort of fragile indie-rock romper that sounds like it’s going to fall apart at any moment, and which sounds all the better for it. ‘Repetition’ resembles the Pet Shop Boys if they favoured electric guitars over synthesizers.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty of the sort of dream-pop the band did so well so many years back, and yet ‘Eternal Recurrence’, ‘In This Room’ and ‘Jump Jet’ are among the prettiest songs they’ve ever created. It’s fitting that Ride would choose to call their new album ‘This Is Not A Safe Place’. After spending the last two decades of his career very much playing it safe, Bell is back in brave, progressive, creative territory.