Release Date: Mar 3, 2015
Record label: Cobraside
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Dream Pop, Shoegaze
During the golden age of shoegaze in the late '80s and early '90s, British act Swervedriver never quite gained the prestige of Creation Records contemporaries like My Bloody Valentine or Ride, but established a dedicated following of their own with their somewhat more aggressive initial approach to bent guitar tones and dreamlike alternative pop that slowly progressed into more psychedelic and jangly pop sounds. The band took most of the 2000s off, calling it a day after 1998's excellent 99th Dream but reuniting in 2008 for various tours and performances. I Wasn't Born to Lose You marks Swervedriver's fifth album and their first new material in over 15 years.
Swervedriver never were a shoegaze band. While Kevin Shields and Neil Halstead were busy contemplating how to make their guitars sound ethereal and un-guitarlike, Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge were distilling the six-string electric down to its very essence. But when Swervedriver handed Ride’s Mark Gardner a demo titled Son of Mustang Ford in 1989, the dominoes tumbled into Alan McGee’s path, and they were signed to Creation records.
Swervedriver inhabit a funny spot within the pantheon of classic shoegazer bands. They were always slightly out of step with their 90’s Creation-era peers, most of whom appeared content to disappear behind a veil of tastefully shimmering feedback and lyrical obtuseness. Swervedriver, on the other hand, were more interested in ripping. Their guitars may have fed back through the requisite number of effects pedals—classic Swervedriver tshirts actually featured a connected bank of effects pedals rather than the band members—but rather than shrink into the feedback, Swervedriver married their guitar haze with nods to poppy psychedelia, American film noir, and songs about fast cars.
I Wasn't Born to Lose You is the Oxford, England rock unit's first full-length in 17 years, and while Swervedriver's return hasn't gotten the same level of ballyhoo as contemporaries such as Slowdive or Ride, it should. Swervedriver pick up right where they left off, their sound relatively unchanged by the passing of nearly two decades. .
Wrapping up a reunion tour that lasted almost as long as their original run, Swervedriver have finally returned to the studio to record their first album since 1998's eclectic 99th Dream. Reassembling their Mezcal Head lineup (with Mikey Jones of Bolts of Melody replacing Jez Hindmarsh), the Swervies' fifth LP, I Wasn't Born to Lose You, shows a band eager to recapture their old magic. Although tracks like the sonically tight "Last Rites" and stoner rocker "Red Queen Arms Race" find Swervedriver attempting to stretch out from their typical song structures — allowing their heavily affected guitar outros to build and collapse — much of the work on I Wasn't Born to Lose You finds the quartet sticking closely to the script.
Though the music world is incredibly cyclical, with genres re-emerging after lying dormant for decades at a time, there’s something different about the return of long-gone shoegaze acts My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, Medicine, and Swervedriver. Single legacy acts reunite after long absences, but it’s rare that entire tides of artists make their way back to the shore like this. Much like their compatriots, Swervedriver seems fueled by a sincere investment in the music rather than opportunism.
Seventeen years between albums is a long time for anyone, but Swervedriver’s split and various reformations seem to have had a deep – and intermittently excellent – effect on the new material. The epic, six-and-a-half minute Everso breathes and expands through friendly distortion, instantly recognisable as a Swervedriver effort while pulling no punches in exploring the sonic space. English Subtitles showcases the group’s skill at layering multiple guitar lines, spinning through the stereo field to create a real sense of movement.
The open-road metaphor was made for Swervedriver. Never quite belonging to that land tagged by the word “shoegaze” and never loyal to any other tag prevalent in the 90s, they were destined to occupy the musical hinterlands. Migrating repeatedly to and from shoegaze, psychedelic, punk, Britpop, noise, and alternative rock, they moved perpetually in a homeless limbo, where they were never quite in one place or the other, even when they were shaming their so-called peers with seminal moments like “Son of A Mustang Ford,” “Duel,” and “Bring Me The Head of The Fortune Teller.
Early ‘90s alt-rock remains heavily entrenched in the grip of reformation, with seemingly no end in sight. Ride and Slowdive are the latest entries to this pantheon, and while most bands are just happy taking the dollar, several (albeit too few) have managed to rustle up new music. Make what you will of the likes of Indie Cindy by the Pixies or My Bloody Valentine’s m b v, playing 20 year old music is a novelty that surely wears off for both band and audience.
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.
Swervedriver I Wasn't Born to Lose You (Cobraside) Swervedriver divided its Nineties career in half, with two LPs of roaring, overwhelming shoegaze, and two of kinder, gentler guitar pop. For its comeback, the Oxford, UK, outfit serves both masters. I Wasn't Born to Lose You, the group's first album in 17 years, starts atop the mid-tempo jangle of "Autodidact," holding true to the form on "English Subtitles" and "Setting Sun." Two-thirds through the LP, muscles flex as "Red Queen Arms Race" and "Deep Wound" rumble into amp abuse while keeping the melodies genteel.
Swervedriver disappeared pretty quietly more than 15 years ago, which was an ill-fitting end for a group capable of being deliciously loud. As the most brazenly rock-leaning player in the shoegaze scene, the British band stuck out in all the right ways: Its guitars swirled, sure, but those early songs—“Son Of Mustang Ford,” “Rave Down”—made contemporaries like Ride and Lush seem effete by comparison. My Bloody Valentine, another peer (and Creation Records labelmate), had the volume but was more interested in texture than traditional structure.
At the peak of their original run in the 90s, Swervedriver were lumped in with the shoegazer scene thanks to their buried soft vocals and dense wall of guitars. But they also had a lot in common with grunge's sludgy riffs and were always less shy of bluesy leads than most of their UK contemporaries. On their first album in 17 years, they capture the feel of their first two records better than they did on the two others they released in the 90s.