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Reviews

Swervedriver
I Wasn't Born to Lose You Hannah Ehrlich , March 4th, 2015 12:06

Seeing an old favourite band rise from the ashes is always comforting, even as it carries with it the fear of betrayal; comebacks can be well-timed and well-executed, or they can be purely opportunistic. The case of Swervedriver in particular raises a number of suspicions, given their links to an ageing UK indie scene whose recent resurgence has left fans (both old and new) starry-eyed and bursting at the eardrums.

In response to their first few EPs released on Creation Records, Swervedriver were labelled a "shoegaze" band, though their hard-edged, peculiarly American machismo was more indebted to Hüsker Dü than My Bloody Valentine. Nevertheless, the press turned a blind eye (or ear), and the shoegazing label stuck. That's what you get for forming a four-to-five-piece guitar band in Oxford in 1989. With that in mind, it is tempting to pass off a new Swervedriver album – indeed, the first in 18 years – as a last ditch leap onto a fast-retreating bandwagon. With Slowdive returning to the studio after a successful world tour and Ride billed for a series of reunion shows this coming summer, the general public's appetite for floods of reverb and tender, submerged vocals seems to be at a new high. Yet Swervedriver have been riding that wagon since their first reunion show in 2008. You could even say that they (along with the triumphant return of My Bloody Valentine) set the wagon rolling in the first place. The question then arises as to whether their latest effort warrants a 7 year incubation period.

First off, long-term fans will be pleased to hear faithful echoes of their past exploits, from the petrol-fuelled propulsion of their early work through to the warm, spacey psychedelia and classic pop hooks of 1998's 99th Dream. The familiar hypnotic, too-close male harmonies make a reappearance, too, and 'Everso' even features a self-referential lyric, "The radio still plays", a throwback to their 1990 single 'Son Of Mustang Ford'. But unlike 'Mustang Ford', the tone is languid and brooding, marked by a metronomic drumbeat and breathless vocal mantra. Even the title of the album hints at an unforeseen sweetness, a slightly awkward romantic yearning that jars somewhat with the freewheeling, thrill-seeking image projected by their back catalogue, but ultimately fits quite well with the sedate maturity of their new output.

Indeed, this record provokes a surprisingly strong range of emotions, the likes of which I never thought I'd feel while listening to a Swervedriver album. I defy any listener not to swoon quietly at the gorgeous melody of 'English Subtitles', repeated endlessly throughout the song, yet cresting and breaking beautifully each time. This is immediately followed by a few steps back to basics, in the form of the distinctly retro rock & roll 'Red Queen Arms Race', a little like Hendrix via late Jesus And Mary Chain, and then 'Deep Wound', which passes the cascading riff from The Beatles' 'And Your Bird Can Sing' through a brash, grungy filter. Overall, the balance of old and new is almost perfect – a very satisfying quality in a reunion album.

In a sense, the newer material feels like an outstretched hand to followers of a more recent variation on the shoegazing theme, of the sort cultivated by metal and hardcore adherents such as Whirr and Nothing. The guitars are grinding and swampy, the production slick and powerful. Everything seems to be in its rightful place – which is great pop sense, but may not be to everyone's taste.

All in all, there is freshness and intrigue for those that need it – and for those that don't, a reliable consistency with their 90s incarnation. The new Swervedriver may be clean and sentimental, but the "petroleum spirit" of their youth still keeps its pace. It's good to have them back.

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