Ride – “Moonlight Medicine” (Creation, 1994)
I had a weird tendency to come at a band’s discography sideways when I was growing up. I didn’t have much guidance on what music was good and bad, so I had to hammer those details out myself through constant trial and error. All told, I’m rather grateful that this was the road I had to take. It exposed me to so much I never would have experienced had someone been shepherding me through what was cool. It also helped me forge my own perspective on music, which is certainly paying dividends in a world where most people only trust their algorithms to do the work for them, abdicating a piece of their intellectual curiosity in the process.
However, this approach (or lack thereof let’s be honest) was not without its unforeseen side effects. The most notable of these is that I’d hop into an artist’s catalog wherever. More often than not, all I would know about a band was that they were either important or supposedly cool, so I’d look for whatever record I could find and pick up a copy. It’s basically the Whitman’s sampler approach to cultural consumption. Sometimes you luck out and pull How Could Hell Be Any Worse by Bad Religion. Other times you whiff completely and pull Rise by Bad Brains.
It comes with the territory, but again, these results aren’t special. Wow, most people think a late-era Bad Brains album was bad and, wouldn’t you know it, it turns out they were right. No, the truly formative pieces of music in my opinion are the ones that force you to be positive in the face of negativity. It’s one thing to dislike something popular. That’s not really that hard because despite going against the grain, you’re not really opening yourself up for criticism. Trashing things is easy. But standing up and being a champion of something in the face of overwhelming dismissal? That’s not only hard, but its foundational in defining what you are about.
Enter Ride’s “Moonlight Medicine”.
Ride are probably best known as one of the driving forces in the shoegaze genre, alongside bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, Their debut album Nowhere is widely considered on of the best albums of the 1990’s, and established the group as a force in the UK music scene. They followed that up with Going Blank Again, which further cemented their reputation as not only impressive musicians, but also a shoegaze band willing to draw from a more diverse base of influences than their contemporaries.
Well, it would seem that their predilection for sonic evolution was what also caused their precipitous decline, as their third album, 1994’s Carnival of Light, saw the group make an almost full departure from their shoegaze roots in favor of a more traditional folk/garage/psych sound, mostly in an effort to keep up with the Britpop trend of the time. While the album sold well initially, the reaction to the record was poor. The band themselves grew to dislike the album and even began referring to it as Carnival of Shite. The group never really recovered and folded up shop one album later.
Now, I don’t think I need to say that Nowhere is a great album. However, my first Ride album was Carnival of Light, an album that I never would’ve heard if someone told me not to. I mean, why would I listen to the album that essentially ruined a band?
Well, I’m glad I did because Carnival of Light is… not great.
Yeah, the album as a whole is way too long and mostly uninspired. HOWEVER. You could’ve fooled me putting this on for the first time as a kid, because by the time the opening track ended, I thought this was going to be one of my favorite albums ever. Such is the power of “Moonlight Medicine”, a near seven minute psych rock epic thrumming with propulsive energy, hazy malevolence, and some incredible guitar licks. Not only is this my favorite Ride song by a country mile, but I truly believe it is one of the best songs of the 90’s. A bold statement to be sure, but it is a truly killer song.
But perhaps what this song means to me goes beyond the song itself. To me, “Moonlight Medicine” is a reminder to remain engaged. It can be incredibly tempting to just settle for the known quantity or worse let an outside force dictate your free time based on similar listening habits, especially considering how stressful life has been over the past several years. However, when you stop engaging, I truly believe you stop having genuine, meaningful moments of discovery. Nothing that is worth it is easy, and “Moonlight Medicine” is a clear example that there are diamonds in the rough are out there if you’re willing to keep your mind open,