The common narrative for the first era of Ride is their early EPs and 1990 debut Nowhere are the hallowed records and shoegaze blueprints, 1992’s Going Blank Again perfecting the balance of noise and pop, but 1996’s Tarantula and their attempts to pivot to Britpop was too late and too bad, putting the band on ice for the next 20 years.
But what about 1994’s Carnival Of Light? I’m partial to it not least of all because it was the first Ride record I bought, but it’s generally disregarded by ‘gaze purists because it abandoned their walls of sound in favour of inspiration drawn from ’60s psychedelia, leaning on acoustic guitars and organs for textures more than pedals and effects. The result was a record that was neither what their fans expected nor what the mainstream wanted, but on its own merits it’s really not a bad record. There’s more forgettable moments than on the previous records, but the vibe is cohesive and even without loads of effects, it still sounds great.
Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim DeRogatis celebrated the record in March 2003, which was mathematically about as far as you could get from both the record’s release and the band’s reunion, so really a time when absolutely no one wanted to talk about Ride. And yet, he got frontman Mark Gardener to talk about Carnival Of Light a little:
“I thought it was a great album, but it’s funny because a lot of people who were attached to the earlier Ride noise thing didn’t take to that album at all. If you like the more psychedelic angle, that was definitely a psychedelic thing–we were in a very psychedelic frame of mind in the studio. [Laughing] It was a psychedelic time for all of us, really.”Mark Gardener
Ride’s psychedelic guitar rock for the ages @ Jim DeRogatis
The lead single from Carnival was “Birdman”, the opening track of side two and thus Andy Bell’s first composition on the record; he and Gardener split their songs across the two sides of the record because that’s what people in healthy creative partnerships do. At it’s full album length, it’s an epic track that ranks with the band’s best, but the radio edit – which chops it down to half its length – truly does it no justice. But at least they got a trippy video out of it?
I haven’t gone through every post-reunion set list, but very little Carnival material has made it into their shows. Their September 2015 show in Washington D.C. was the first time in 20 years that the band played “Birdman”, and from what I’ve seen, it was only aired once more on the following night and then shelved again.
The band are currently preparing a reissue series of their back catalog, which has been intermittently out of print for years. Nor surprisingly, the first salvo of records due this Fall cover their early EPs, Nowhere, and GBA. Remasters of Carnival and Tarantula are also promised, just no word on when. It will be interesting to see what kind of critical re-evaluation – if any – those two records get when they are finally back on the market.