Early nineties ‘shoegazers’ Slowdive always got a pretty rough ride by the press in the UK. By the time they released Pygmalion, their wonderful third and final album, even their label Creation seemed completely disinterested in the group. They, of course, regrouped as Mojave 3, and have peddled a fairly innocuous fare of country-tinged pop ever since. Slowdive’s lukewarm reputation in their home country stood in stark contrast to the respect that the band was afforded in continental Europe. In 2002, Morr Music released a double CD compilation called Blue Skied An’ Clear which consisted of one disc of covers of Slowdive songs, and one disc of music inspired by the band. The covers were a mixed bag – some were superb, inventive new takes on the songs, and some were tired retreads. But few could argue with the calibre of the artists who contributed – Manual, Múm, Icebreaker International and Lali Puna being just four.
Ulrich Schnauss was also a notable contributor. Five years on, the Berliner has produced his third album Goodbye. If anything, the Slowdive influences are more marked than on his previous two albums, Far Away Trains Passing By and A Strangely Isolated Place. Both of those records were immensely successful, both artistically and commercially. Something about the unashamedly epic and romantic nature of the music gained Schnauss a large and devoted following.
“Never Be The Same” is a gorgeous opener, and one of the chief highlights of Goodbye. In some ways it out Slowdives Slowdive with the multi-layered swathes of sound, and the ethereal vocals. It is music that’s not afraid to be huge-sounding. “Shine” bears more of a resemblance to Slowdive’s early nineties contemporaries Chapterhouse, being a little more rocky and upbeat, and emphasising guitars over synths and samplers. Elsewhere things are a little less obviously influenced by the shoegazing bands, with ambient and other electronic aspects of the music being pushed to the front, and even Neu-like motorik beats introduced into the mix on the album’s warm and fuzzy title track.
The main problem with the record is not so much its parade of influences, but the fact that nearly an hour of big, sweeping cinematic soundscapes adds up to a surfeit of epic grandeur which can get a tad wearisome. The ears yearn for moments that aren’t so self-consciously big. It’s not really a problem with the music that’s there, more an absence of contrast. The closing “For Good” does provide that contrast – part acoustic guitar strum, part Eno-esque ambient interlude. The best track of all, though, is the My Bloody Valentine influenced “Medusa” which chucks everything bar the kitchen sink into the mix, but is nevertheless quite thrilling, and has an equally superb coda of a sampled choir and accompanying fireworks.
Goodbye doesn’t break any new ground, but what Schnauss does he does as well as anybody. I wonder if anything can be read into the album’s title? Especially when the last two tracks are “Goodbye” and “For Good”!