If ever you needed intangible proof that substance will forever rule over style, it’s in the glazed eyes of the Roundhouse thousands staring afresh into Slowdive’s abyss. Back in the early 90s Reading’s high priests of the sonic cathedral were mocked, pilloried and even declared worse than Hitler in some quarters for epitomising the much-derided shoegaze movement. They were wiped from all critical and cultural maps by My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’, swept under the carpet by Britpop, cast in aspic as the most pristine specimen of another fly-by-night 90s indie scene.
But after far more successful subsequent bands have come, gone, come back again and gone again just as quick, Slowdive – a band, remember, who have never come within a phantom’s fart of having an actual hit – are into their third year of breathlessly-received reunion and have bagged their first Top Twenty album with a self-titled fourth in May. Finally considered influential godheads of the near decade-long shoegaze revival, their dive into greatness has certainly been slow, but also richly rewarding.
The issue that saw them become something of a music press joke in 1991 persists though – it is virtually impossible to describe them without sounding like Byron on MDMA. Though tracks from ‘Slowdive’ take a more focused melodic stance than the legendarily ‘ethereal’ early stuff and their underlying groove leaps to the fore live, opener ‘Slomo’ still sounds like a single tear glistening on the cheek of Zeus. It just does, though. ‘When The Sun Hits’ is exactly the noise colliding galaxies make – prove me wrong, the doubters. ‘Alison’ begins its four-minute quick-time evolution as a lush pop duet between Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead sunk 10,000 leagues into the watery depths, and ends it as The Jesus And Mary Chain falling into the sun. And yes, there are oceanic waves of noise. I should know, I surfed them.
Scorching sky-squall, melodic starburst, groove-laden firestorm, static radiation you can hum; all are present, correct and merging together amid torrents of gorgeously violent strobe, as they rightly should. This is, after all, music to be engulfed by, to sink into like a heady opiate, be it the warped and hypnotic ‘Catch The Breeze’ (tonight’s only foray into debut album ‘Just For A Day’- still no ‘The Sadman’, sadly), the ferocious and danceable ‘Star Roving’ or the stretches of misty-lake atmospherics that sound like the bits that could be cut out of Cure songs without doing much damage.
Covering Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair’ as a main set closer, they even have a crack at reaching MBV-level volume as Goswell’s haunting folk intro gives way to a cataclysmic finale that does its damndest to recreate some sort of inter-planetary pile-up. They encore with a dolorous ‘Dagger’ and ’40 Days’, ‘rocking out’ in much the same way as moons ‘rock’ into gas giants, and leave not as a throwback to a soppy, slack-jawed frippery of early 90’s indie but as proof that tremendous, and tremendously inspiring, sounds will inevitably echo through the ages. The dark matter rises.