Both Curve’s Doppelgänger and Ride’s Going Blank Again came out on the same day in 1992
Sure, part of the fun of the record store experience has always been the exploration — going through the racks and sections, discovering something new or finding something you’ve been looking for (flashing back to a road trip to Milwaukee many years ago where I finally came across a copy of Badfinger’s Wish You Were Here album).
But some trips to the record store have been for the new stuff, especially when there are multiple titles coming out that catch your eye.
And so it was on a Tuesday 30 years ago this month, when two different, yet classic takes on shoegaze were awaiting those who set foot in their record store of choice — Curve’s Doppelgänger and Ride’s Going Blank Again.
In a sense, Doppelgänger is a stop in the through line from My Bloody Valentine to Garbage, or rather, from the Cocteau Twins to Garbage with a stop at My Bloody Valentine on the way to the club. Listen to how the album opens with “Already Yours.” Those electronica beats with the guitar riffage over it. Then Toni Halliday’s vocals swoop in with icy cool, complete with those “ooh la la las” and it’s easy to see the influence on what Garbage would be doing a few years later.
VIDEO: Curve “Horror Head”
That said, it’s not a complete template. The guitars, primarily from Dean Garcia, are much more prominent (to a greater degree than on subsequent Curve albums). They’re even moreso on the second song, “Horror Head,” one of the album’s two singles (and one of its highlights). It clearly shows some influence from MBV, to the point where only the guitars not being as pushed up in the mix keep it from sounding Loveless-esque.
But then burying Halliday’s vocals wasn’t going to be in the cards. She doesn’t so much fight for space with the guitars as she dances and fuses with them, a musical equivalent of the swirled ice cream cone.
Doppelgänger isn’t just a heavier album because of those fuzzy, distorted guitars, but also those prominent driving bass grooves, like the one on the pounding “Wish You Dead” or the first single “Fait Accompli.”
The latter is another clear highlight and the closest Curve came to a hit here in the States, being their one song to to crack the Top 20 on the alternative charts.
Halliday, who had a knack for sounding like the coolest woman in the room without the slightest whiff of caring if she did, intones “Every party/To every function/To give to people with written instructions/Don’t try to get away/I’m here to stay/My name is fate, fate”
For all its shoegaze hallmarks, Doppelgänger isn’t content to stare black bootward. It’s too full of spiky venom and “don’t fuck with me” stares through heavy black eyeliner.
“Wish You Dead” carries every bit of the sneering attitude its title demands.
As surely as there were subsequent bands who listened to Curve, Curve clearly had acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees in their musical diet, which is yet another flavoring that separated them from their peers at the time. See “Horror Head” and the absorbing “Lilies Dying” with that chorus of “I’ve got no problem with you, you can come in/I just don’t want to upset you so make your mind up/Got to sharpen you ’cause lillies dying in the front room.”
Halliday plays off her own backing vocals in the hypnotic “Ice That Melts The Tips”, bobbing and weaving through the sea of guitars all the while.
Doppelgänger, if it has a fault, it’s that things get almost too monochromatic with its electronica beats and layers and squalls of guitar.
Album closer “Sandpit” is the one respite, slower and more low-key. It’s perfectly lovely although one wishes it had more of a hook.
Overall, Curve at this point had discovered a formula that worked well for them and they were going to stick to it.
VIDEO: Curve 1992 interview on Videowave
There were more hits than misses. The cocktail of self-loathing and self-doubt in the title track goes down smoothly and bitterly. “Think and Act” hangs around in the brain afterwards in the way Loveless’ catchiest moments did.
To be sure, the album is a time capsule, though not a musty one. The constant use of sequencers and loops definitely tie it to that period. It reminds one of sometimes lesser bands that used the template to diminished effect, populating film soundtracks and cutout bins in the late 90s and early ’00s. Halliday and Garcia can capably conjure a mood with a well-produced blend of noise, melody and, dare I say it, danceability. The serrated guitars are still enveloping. And Halliday remains an arresting presence throughout. The fact that she didn’t become a bigger star in the ’90s Alternative Nation era is more an indictment of the circumstances and the audience than it was a statement against the considerable skills she brought to the table.
While Curve was dealing with the expectations created with a series of EPs, Ride was facing the “What do you to for a follow-up?” question after their stellar 1990 debut Nowhere (“Vapour Trail” alone!).
The answer was to record and keep recording. Mark Gardener and Andy Bell, the band’s two writers, were prolific and still in sync (the latter wouldn’t last much longer). Ride recorded over twice as many tracks than wound up on Going Blank Again. Any plans for a double album scuttled by poo-pooing from their label.
If Curve was busy offering variations on a theme, Ride was spreading out in various directions, moving past shoegaze shackles with more of a pop sensibility.
The first two songs on going Blank Again display that perfectly. “Going Blank Again” is textbook shoegaze that isn’t. There’s that Hammond organ. There’s Laz Colbert’s nimble drumming not being buried. But make no mistake, after threatening to, the Wall O’ Guitars breaks through in the swirling, ever-louder outro, pulling the listener under until one realizes “Did I have my headphones turned THAT far up?”
Ride follows that closing cacophony with a piece of textbook shimmering ’90s power pop in “Twisterella.” If Ride tried (and mostly failed) to catch the Britpop wave on their next two albums, the gloriousness of this song amplified the disappointment in those two (especially Tarantula, ugh), because it wasn’t as if Gardener and Bell weren’t capable.
The former penned “Twisterella” while Bell delivered “Chrome Waves”, a ballad with keyboard atmosphere and psychedelic harmonies that wash over. It’s a song that latter-day Oasis (who Bell joined in the late ’90s) would have killed for.
VIDEO: Ride “Twisterella”
It would have been easy for Ride to crank out Nowhere, Part Deux, content to deliver more of the same. And, indeed, if you asked me which Ride album to check out first, “Nowhere” would be the word out of my lips. But Going Blank Again has held up almost as well and might be my answer on some days. Ride’s desire to just explore and play with whatever they liked at the time, be it a sound here or a chord progression they were going to stretch the everloving hell out of there, is intoxicating.
“Not Fazed” points where the Charlatans were heading, but the guitars are way too loud to make it sound like they had been curled up with Stones records.
The peaks are often when Ride goes into Guitar Album mode, not just with “Leave It All Behind.” Take away the building tension-and-release of that song and you have the propulsive swirl of “Cool Your Boots.” Melodic dueling guitars take center stage in “Mouse Trap”, underpinned by another reminder that Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt were often the band’s unsung heroes.
If Going Blank Again isn’t quite as consistent as Nowhere (and there’s no reason “Making Judy Smile” couldn’t have been swapped for the would-be title track), it does finish stronger. “OX4” is the perfect long album closer, finding beauty through and after the noise.
From that shared release day, it’s safe to say Curve fared better in the quality department for quite a while — particularly 1993’s Cuckoo and their hiatus/breakup return with 1998’s Come Clean.
That said, while Curve has remain broken up for almost 20 years, Ride returned five years ago and released a couple of albums, that if not at the level of their first two, have been far from embarrassing and served a noble purpose in not letting Seriously, I Can Not Emphasize Enough That This Is For Completists Only, er, um, Tarantula, be their last album.
But that was the future. 30 years ago, if you came home from your neighborhood record store with Doppelgänger and Going Blank Again, you came home with snapshots of two pretty good (and ultimately underrated) bands at their arguable peak.