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Album review: Slowdive – “Souvlaki”

24/12/2010

This continues the series of the reviews of my personal best records of all time. Sorry for the inconsistence of the sizes of covers, I’m using the ones on Wikipedia because I’m lazy to upload them here and there’s no need I suppose. Anyway, as I’ve already said before, the conditions for an album to become favorite aren’t that strict: it must have good music, good lyrics, and/or trigger something that would make me feel like loving it.

“Souvlaki” by Slowdive isn’t on the list for the lyrics, because there’s no need in understanding them. Being one of the Holy Trinity of shoegaze records (with Ride’s “Nowhere” and My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”), “Souvlaki” is mainly here because of the swooning soundscapes created by Neil Halstead & Co. and the lost songwriting gems that could be in row with the all-time greats like Lennon/McCartney but unfortunately weren’t, because you can’t really compare Slowdive with The Beatles in terms of popularity.

Oh, and it has Brian Eno on it.

I guess I exaggerated a bit when I wrote that Halstead’s songs could trump Lennon/McCartney’s, but still out of the shoegazer bands – except Lush – Slowdive were the closest to being pop, and all of their songs had potential for becoming hits. It’s just that Slowdive were in the right place but in the wrongest time of all – in 1993, grunge was gradually dying out and Britpop was on the rise with Blur’s “Modern Life Is Rubbish” and Suede’s debut, and Slowdive’s dreamy, slurry songs couldn’t compete with Damon Albarn’s caustic, Brit-centric material.

But still, “Souvlaki” was a sort of maturation record for Slowdive, because their first album, “Just for a Day”, was recorded before most of the band members were 21, and that showed – only “Spanish Air”, “Catch the Breeze” and “Ballad of Sister Sue” could really compete with the sweetness that followed. The fact that Brian Eno participated only made things better – “Here She Comes”, that he wrote together with Halstead, is one of the highlights, and “Sing” was inarguably augmented by Eno’s keyboard treatments.

Not to downplay the other songs on the album – the opening three songs, “Alison”, “Machine Gun”, and “40 Days” might be the best ones out of all the shoegaze albums – remember that after “Only Shallow” and “Loomer” was “Touched”. “When the Sun Hits” is the best songwriting moment for Neil Halstead during his tenure with Slowdive, and “Souvlaki Space Station” might be THE most swooning of all the soundscapes on the album.

Rhythm section is basic at best, but it’s not that important – the main heroes of the arrangements here are the wall of guitars, the likes of which could never be possibly recreated in a convincing way, and Halstead’s and Rachel Goswell’s extremely close harmonies, which add to the dreamlike quality of the album. With all these epithets (and Brian Eno), there isn’t much left to say that would downplay my fanboyism. Still, take my word for it: quite possibly, the last great shoegaze album of the original run, “Souvlaki” is one of the most sweeping, plainly gorgeous sounding albums that you will ever experience.

Highlights: “Alison”, “Machine Gun”, “40 Days”, “Altogether”, “When the Sun Hits”

Lowlights: none

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