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My friend Tim was always a bigger fan of Slowdive than I was, and I suspect that his appreciation of the group was influenced greatly by his crush on one of the principal vocalists of the group, Rachel Goswell. He tried to get me into them and I did my best to give them a shot. I tape-recorded a copy of the “Souvlaki” CD he loaned me. Unfortunately, I would never get very far with it, rarely more than a few songs past the opening track (but more on that in a bit).
Much like the rest of the music world, critics and writers who never appreciated Slowdive until they were gone, I didn’t get into the Reading-based five-piece until much later. I’ve already documented* on these pages that it was long after they had lost a couple members, changed musical directions, and rebranded that I caught up with them again, just after they had released their third album as Mojave 3. When I listen to “Souvlaki” now, though, I can’t help but wonder: “What were we all thinking?”
The album is lush and ambient, the sadness and hurt palpable in every wash and echo. More deliberate and difficult than its predecessor, it is a sophomore album multiplied by a hundred, informed equally by the knowledge that anything they produced would be panned and by the internal strife in the band created by the romantic split of Neil Halstead and the aforementioned Goswell. If it weren’t for the rise of Grunge and Britpop, it may have been just as hailed at the time as it is now. Hands down, it was one of the greatest shoegaze albums ever recorded.
“Alison” is the one track that I can honestly say that I’ve always loved from the album. As an opener, it was a hard one to move past and I rarely did. The guitars jangle and waver, a shimmering of light highlighting millions of tiny specks of dust, lifted and disrupted ever so gently by a passing breeze, the same that caused flutters in the gossamer curtains of sound. Drums are far off in the distance and deep down in the mix, like a harrowing memory. The reverb is like a third person in the room, pushing together the lilting voices of Halstead and Goswell, even as it as ripping them apart. “Alison” could be anyone who’s ever broken your heart, a smoker’s cough and an ashtray overflowing with butts, a hangover and a dozen empty merlot bottles.
“Alison, I’m lost
Alison, I’ll drink your wine
And wear your clothes when we’re both high
Alison, I said we’re sinking
But she laughs and tells me it’s just fine
I guess she’s out there somewhere”
*And likely will do so again…
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.