Universal Road

Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener

Soleil Après Minuit, 2015


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Listening to Universal Road is like watching paint dry. One can picture Robin Guthrie and Mark Gardener as some cheesy band playing boring music at a bar and getting drowned out in the din of people talking, since no one is paying any attention to the music. It wouldn’t be surprising if this is the reaction of someone who is not aware of Guthrie and Gardener upon listening to this album. But what is indeed surprising (and sad) is that this could also be the reaction of someone who is actually quite familiar with this duo and their past work! Even if you put on your rose-tinted glasses and view this album through the nostalgia of the former bands of Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and Gardener (Ride), you will find it pretty difficult to find much of anything in this album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It has been two decades since Ride’s last album, and it is almost the same case with Cocteau Twins. So, although it is inevitable, it is also unfair to compare this collaboration with Gardener’s and Guthrie’s former bands and expect Universal Road to be some sort of a magical Ride/Cocteau Twins super-album. In the duo’s defense, they have tried to shy away from the lush dream pop soundscapes that their respective bands pioneered, and they have instead embraced a more stripped-down sound for this album.

However, no matter how hard you try to block it off, the musical style of Universal Road sounds almost identical to the last two Cocteau Twins records (Four-Calendar Café and Milk And Kisses) and virtually nothing has been done – especially by Guthrie – to evolve his musical approach and create something fresh (at least partially). As a result, a comparison with Cocteau Twins is unavoidable; and considering the mediocre and dull songs, Universal Road is alas no better than a pitiful Cocteau Twins knockoff album.

For his part, Mark Gardener doesn’t sound – and doesn’t even try to sound – like his previous incarnation with Ride. If you didn’t know who was singing the songs on this album, you wouldn’t even guess that it was the guy from the band Ride. To his credit, Gardener puts on a tender and reflective face to his singing manner, kind of like a mature wise man looking back at his days of youth. This is no doubt very elegant and befitting, considering the introspective nature of the lyrics; but at the same time, Gardener just sounds too wispy and tired, which makes his vocals seem disinterested and lifeless.

One should consider this collaboration between Guthrie and Gardener as an entirely separate entity from both their previous bands. However, unfortunately, the only way to appreciate Universal Road (and get over the tedium of its songs) might actually be to romanticize the past and take what we can get from the fragments of the bands of yore that we so love and cherish.

Rating: D-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2015 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Soleil Après Minuit, and is used for informational purposes only.