It seems like every band from the past reforms these days - if it ever goes away at all - but there’s always a concern when a cherished group from 20 plus years ago releases an album of new material. It has to sound like progress without alienating their fans. 25 years after their classic debut EPs, Swervedriver have released their first album of this century.
Having gone on ‘hiatus’ in 1998 on the back of their disappointing fourth LP 99th Dream, Swervedriver started making occasional live appearances in 2008. With frontman Adam Franklin continuing his prolific solo work, these live shows seemed likely to be no more than a play around in the nostalgia scene, until they released a new song, 'Deep Wound', as a single in 2013. Subsequently they started working on new material in 2014 and their fifth album I Wasn’t Born To Lose You was released yesterday.Swervedriver were one of the better British bands of the early nineties and they gained considerable popularity in the UK and America without ever catching the right wave to make them really big.
Originally misidentified as part of the piss-awful and (mercifully) short-lived ‘shoegazer’ scene that My Bloody Valentine and Jesus & Mary Chain inadvertently spawned, they were later labelled as a grunge band. They certainly shared roots with many grunge bands (Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr, Stooges) but that was as far as the similarity went and, ultimately, as the popularity of that sub-genre faded, the label did them no favours.
Their sound developed away from the searing, psychedelic noise that had originally won them fans and shifted their first two albums. But while third LP Ejector Seat Reservation was critically acclaimed, their fourth wasn’t. With sales dropping, record company politics getting complicated and the band members tired of constantly touring, they called it a day in 1998.
I Wasn’t Born To Lose You sees Swervedriver revisiting the musical framework of their debut, Raise and its follow up, Mezcal Head. A more mature and considered version of that framework, maybe, but they were always a pretty grown-up band anyway, and it still sounds fresh, vibrant and full of energy.
Opener 'Autodidact' sets the tone with its swirling, multi-layered guitars and a chiming, atonal hook reminiscent of Sonic Youth, while Last Rites is upbeat, psychedelic pop – a combination of My Bloody Valentine and early Foo Fighters. 'Lone Star' and the first single 'Deep Wound' feature hypnotic riffing that would fit comfortably on to Raise, while 'Setting Sun' places intricate, spiralling guitar lines over an insistent descending bass.
'For A Day Like Tomorrow' and 'English Subtitles' have touches of the ambient psychedelia of Franklin’s Toshack Highway. 'Everso' is the album’s most introspective – almost mournful - moment.
Closing track 'I Wonder' builds and builds into the feedback-laden cacophony which fans of the band’s early work will have been hoping for, but the highlight is 'Red Queen Arms Race', with its squally guitars, reverberating feedback and vocals channelled through every effects pedal in the studio, piled high on to Steve George’s massive bassline. It recalls Spacemen 3 at their most intense.
I Wasn’t Born To Lose You recaptures the power and synergy of Swervedriver at their best and marries is it to the more mature song-writing style that Adam Franklin has developed in recent years. It has a consistent sound, but is varied enough to keep the listener’s attention from start to finish. Like all of Swervedriver’s work it sounds better and better with repeated listens as the various strands in each tune become untangled. Any concerns that their comeback album would alienate the band’s original fans were misplaced; in fact this is some of their best work to date.