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Somewhere near the end of Going Blank Again, the aptly titled recent release by Ride, there's a point at which the unfortunate listener is presented with a dubious set of choices.

Singer-guitarist Mark Gardner and the rest of Ride have muddled their way through almost 50 minutes of monotonous moans and lazy chord changes. The CD's final cut, "OX4," is mercifully approaching the finish and, at the moment of truth, Gardner sums up his muse by bleating, "Never been so far away/Just lost the last thought in my head/What happens now?"

The options here are many: One can find the nearest open window and put an end to it all; or find the nearest shotgun and put an end to the pinhead who recommended the disc; or, most likely, one can simply continue snoring, having succumbed to a deep slumber midway through the CD's second or third song.

Yes, the new Ride release is that dull.
The new one from Lush is even worse.
What's going on here? How is it that these highly touted British bands are traipsing across the pond and polluting stateside CD bins with such slack-jawed mental Novocain? Why are so many rock critics thumbing their thesauruses in praise of these two bands?

And who actually listens to this stuff?
The answers reside somewhere in the cul-de-sac that has become contemporary music. Indeed, the music industry and its attendant artists appear increasingly and alarmingly bereft of ideas. As such, pop music now more than ever is a rear-view mirror focused on more imaginative times.

Consider: Rap may be the most exciting and inventive music of the day, but it's hinged heavily on the sampling of older sounds. "Alternative" music? Explain, please, the difference between Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the like with Foghat, Head East and other crusty metal bands laid to rest in the Seventies. Country music is little more than the repeated rediscovery of its roots. Jazz is a closing circle of academics and purists. R&B is MIA, and blues is an unending rehash of songs and sentiment from a long-gone America.

In such a climate, an adventurous young listener is essentially left with an array of choices more suited to his parents.

Smell much like teen spirit to you?
Enter bands like Ride and Lush. They're new. They're young. They're monosyllabic to better suit today's shorter attention spans.

And they're British, which furthers the illusion of their importance. Americans have long held a deep and apparently unabated admiration for anything English. That peculiar symptom is especially evident in pop music, in which indigenous American sounds have a history of floating back from England dressed up as some kind of exotic new idea for U.S. eyes and ears.

Ride, for example, would like to be Big Star, the Byrds, maybe even the Beach Boys. Scattered elements of those tried-and-true bands are littered throughout Going Blank Again. But Ride's adaptation of its influences sound limp and soggy in practice. Melodies droop here, vocals sag there, songs come and go with nothing much to make them memorable. Especially tedious is Ride's endless repetition of even the slightest hint of a hook. It's as if the band is marking time, extending passable passages in the way a dance band exhausts a groove. Dance bands, though, have a reason for mindless repetition; Ride just hangs on for lack of nothing better to do. So much for new sounds.

As irrelevant as Ride seems to the evolution of ideas, Lush leaves even lighter footprints with Spooky, the band's first full-length CD.

Like Ride, Lush has been around a while, releasing EPs and collections of EPs at infrequent intervals. With Lush, especially, a limited output helped create a sense of mystery behind the boy-girl-boy-girl group. The band's odd EP appearances, coupled with steady coverage in British music mags, successfully teased the terminally curious on both sides of the Atlantic.

Inclusion on the ultratrendy 4AD label didn't hurt the Lush buzz, either. 4AD is the queen bee of trendy import labels, having built its reputation as a moody alternative mainstay largely on the back of the Cocteau Twins, the ethereal English act that owned U.S. import sales for much of the Eighties.

Even though 4AD has long since proven mortal--the label unleashed Xymox and similarly unspectacular gothic goo in later years--the 4AD imprint and the Cocteaus' influence still hang heavy in alternative circles. Which helps explain why Cocteau guitarist Robin Guthrie was summoned to produce Spooky. Which in turn helps explain the CD's breathy 4AD ambiance.

Nothing, though, explains Spooky's meager songwriting. The 12 tunes here are dull, static and virtually interchangeable. Dynamics, passion, tension and release--they're all foreign concepts to Lush. An occasional outburst of creativity freckles a couple of songs, most notably "For Love" and "Superblast," but precious little manages to break through the hazy glaze that suffocates the band's every move.

This sort of formulaic mush made an impact back when the Cocteau Twins introduced the concept with a startling sense of melody. But that was ten years ago. For some reason, Lush feels the world is ready for a stillborn replica. And, for some reason, people are listening.

Acts like Lush and Ride are the audio equivalent of confusion. Neither band seems to have a clue as to what it wants or where it's going, so both bands just sit there, arms folded, twin monuments to inertia.

That such stagnant sounds are now heralded as a "next big thing" is a gloomy testament to the once-invigorating concept of "new" music. There's nothing new with Britain's latest batch of imports. They're little more than lazy look-backs to better ideas.

But boring is as boring does, and the likes of Lush and Ride threaten to find an audience with the more passive elements of the increasingly alienated slacker-twentysomething set. Indeed, at this point, bands like Ride and Lush are about all that audience has this side of Nirvana.


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Ted Simons