Talk about wrong place, wrong time. When Slowdive’s third album Pygmalion snuck out 25 years ago – on February 6, 1995 – it was in the midst of Britpop; their Creation Records labelmates Oasis were working on (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and Pulp and Blur were in the ascendancy. Hardly the perfect time, then, for a bleak and oblique album of ambient experimentation; Slowdive were quietly dropped a few weeks later.
They had always been swimming against the tide. After the euphoria that greeted their first three EPs, their debut album, 1991’s Just For A Day, came just as the backlash against the shoegaze scene had begun and the focus was shifting from the Thames Valley to the Pacific Northwest. By 1993’s Souvlaki, despite sharing a producer/mixer/flanger with Suede, they were a band out of time.
Pygmalion was essentially the singular vision of Slowdive guitarist, singer and songwriter Neil Halstead, who had become obsessed with electronic and ambient music and had already started experimenting with sequencers and samplers on 1993’s 5EP. By the time of Pygmalion, this process had been refined: instruments are looped into infinity, while Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s vocals float in and out of the ether. Had it been released on Warp rather than the label that had just served up ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ it would’ve been hailed as a classic, but it was savaged in the press; “‘Trellisaze’, ‘Rutti’ – what do those titles say to you, other than ‘slap me’,” sneered Melody Maker.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing. The fact that you can hear so much of the best music of the last two decades in this album – from Sigur Rós and Mogwai to Radiohead and any number of electronica artists – is proof that the critics were wrong. As it turns 25, Pygmalion is now rightly considered a classic, with Pitchfork and Vinyl Me Please teaming up in 2018 for a beautifully shiny new reissue and ‘Crazy For You’ and ‘Blue Skied An’ Clear’ both high points of the reformed band’s live shows.
Slowdive - Pygmalion
2. Crazy For You
2. J'S Heaven
3. Visions Of La
4. Blue Skied An' Clear