A potential neoclassical masterpiece held back by weak lyrical content
Legendary shoegaze band Ride recently released their sixth studio album, This Is Not A Safe Place. Soon after, they handed off the vocals to London-based neoclassical duo Pêtr Aleksänder, who went above and beyond in their bold and beautiful reimagining of the entire project. The duo’s contribution to Clouds in the Mirror (This Is Not A Safe Place Reimagined by Pêtr Aleksänder) is absolutely brilliant from front to back. Aleksänder’s ability to produce ambient-leaning arrangements that match the emotional content of the original Ride compositions is truly something to behold. Oftentimes though, lead vocalist Mark Gardener’s disappointing lyrics and occasionally underwhelming delivery fail to meet the high bar set by Aleksänder’s reimagined backing.
The album opens beautifully with “R.I.D.E.,” a gorgeous piano-driven instrumental track. It’s a great example of Aleksänder crafting a fantastic classically informed reinterpretation while still managing to capture some of the iconic shoegaze energy present on Ride’s earlier works. The next track, “Future Love,” is one of the most lyrically heinous cuts. Lines like, “infatuated and doing this all wrong/ you’ve got my number and my name/ and you’ve got me going/ yeah, you’ve got me going,” might not have felt out of place on “Teenage Dream:-era Katy Perry deep cuts, but they certainly feel out of place alongside Aleksänder’s fluttering strings. “Repetition” keeps up the cringe-worthy lyrical streak before fading away without a trace.
Track four, “Kill Switch,” is definitely one of the few tracks where Aleksänder and Ride are 100% on the same level. It’s a very eerie cut, where Aleksänder’s sparing piano and cleverly placed crescendos and diminuendos perfectly emphasize Gardener’s hopeless lyrics. “Clouds of Saint Marie” is another success. The combination of lines like “She’s over me/ a memory/ a remedy/ a melody,” with bouncy and bright strings recall the way that clear memories of a once important figure in one’s life can easily become foggy vignettes and eventually fade away almost entirely.
After “Clouds of Saint Marie” is “Eternal Recurrence,” where the piano offers a fantastic counterpoint to Gardener’s singing, and lovely strings passages maintain the momentum. Track seven, “Fifteen Minutes,” houses probably the worst chorus on the project. It’s too bad because Aleksänder really nailed the much darker tone Ride was going for here. Then, from “Jump Jet,” all the way to the end of the album, Aleksänder is really doing the heavy lifting. The pairing of his careful and deliberate piano work with moments of more prominent and dazzling strings remains a theme. Gardener’s inability to rise above the lukewarm also remains a theme. “Dial Up,” and “In This Room,” are particularly notable for Aleksänder’s attempts to elevate the middling songs with more adventurous electronic additions.
Pêtr Aleksänder’s most impressive achievement on this project is their consistently perfect translation of the emotional core behind Mark Gardener’s songwriting into a new classical context. Their ability to craft an incredibly fluid and satisfying listen (in spite of the often frustrating lyrical base), is also noteworthy. The issue lies with Gardener’s portion of the album because while it’s generally clear what he is going for, the lacking lyrics create a very unpleasant and impossible to ignore contrast to Aleksänder’s laser-focused arrangements. Context is extremely important in music, and Pêtr Aleksänder’s work on recontextualizing Clouds in the Mirror (This Is Not A Safe PlaceReimagined by Pêtr Aleksänder) is so mind-blowing that it left no room for poor performances elsewhere.