It’s official: As we speculated last week — and as they’ve been aggressively teasing via every available social channel — Slowdive are indeed reuniting. They’re playing Primavera, and in a forthcoming interview with The Quietus, hint at new material. As far as I’m concerned, this is huge, exciting news. Slowdive were one of the very best bands of the ’90s, one of the seminal shoegaze bands, and the three-LP/multiple-EP catalog they produced between 1990 and 1995 is both unimpeachable and essential. There are some notable reasons to be extremely optimistic about this reunion:
1. The reunited Slowdive lineup comprises vocalist/guitarist Neil Halstead, drummer Simon Scott, guitarist Christian Savill, bassist Nick Chaplin, and vocalist/guitarist Rachel Goswell — i.e., the complete, exact-same lineup behind the band’s impossibly gorgeous and classic first two albums, 1991′s Just For A Day and 1993′s Souvlaki. (Scott had initially left the band in 1994, prior to the recording of their also-classic third album, Pygmalion.)
2. The band to which Slowdive is most frequently compared, My Bloody Valentine, recently staged one of the greatest comebacks in music history. Admittedly, the inevitable MBV/Slowdive comp isn’t the fairest or most accurate way to evaluate either band — MBV’s sound is much bigger and harsher than Slowdive’s finely wrought, ethereal beauty — but it at least provides some sort of parallel.
3. Halstead’s contribution to the new Alcest album shows his voice in fine form — and maybe more importantly, shows him working firmly in the shoegaze/dream-pop genre that Slowdive helped to define, rather than the country/folk styles to which he has dedicated his post-Slowdive career.
There are also reasons for ambivalence:
1. In 2012, Halstead said the primary impetus for any Slowdive reunion would be: “Just shitloads of money … It’s crazy how in vogue it is for bands to get back together these days. It’s almost like you’re not allowed not to get back together. So, I’m sure that we will get back together — because we won’t be allowed not to.” So … yeah: Not the most inspiring quote!
2. Both Halstead and Goswell have remained fairly active since 1995 — via solo projects and their joint collaboration Mojave 3 — and (forgive me but) nothing they’ve done since Slowdive has been even close to worthy of that legacy.
All that said, I’m willing to suspend my skepticism and dive in (pun intended!) with both feet. First off, that Halstead quote is two years old, and he may have been joking anyway, and even if he wasn’t joking and the only reason Slowdive are getting back together is to collect “shitloads of money,” that doesn’t mean they won’t deliver an extraordinary product just the same. Second, it’s not like prime-era Slowdive ever relied on bilious punk fury only accessible to the young and/or truly righteous. They made very pretty, layered, atmospheric music, and it seems to me they could continue to make very pretty, layered, atmospheric music well into middle age without sacrificing the integrity of that music.
It will be most interesting to see, though, the direction taken by new Slowdive music. The band’s most well-known album by a wide margin is their flawless sophomore LP, 1993′s Souvlaki, which is full of pillowy, peppermint-sweetness and sighing, angelic melancholy. But the album that followed that one, their last album, 1995′s Pygmalion, is a thing of spacious, icy minimalism. (In fact, Scott parted ways with the band prior to Pygmalion due to creative differences.) Resuming where they left off on either path would be welcome, as far as I’m concerned, but it would be difficult to merge the two. To build from the Pygmalion blueprint would certainly be the more daring decision, but returning to the sound of Souvlaki would probably yield greater commercial rewards. On the other hand, it would be entirely unwelcome to see them attempt to infuse new Slowdive music with the bland Americana tendencies that guided Mojave 3.
Whatever comes next, this news is cause for jubilation right now. I’d bet the majority of Slowdive fans today never got to see the band the first time around and never thought they’d get the chance to do so — and at some point in 2014, those fans are actually going to see Slowdive. Yep, this is happening. See you there.
UPDATE: The band has announced another show, 5/19 in London. More dates will be announced in the coming weeks.