POP / Out of the darkness: Ryan Gilbey enjoys a bumpy Ride at the Albert Hall

Peter Buck of REM listens to Ride when he's doing his washing-up. It's an odd, parochial image - this human cottage loaf whistling along to a British indie band as he goes at the grease on his non-stick.

It's unlikely that any of the scrubbed-clean, be-ironed well-to-dos in Ride's audience have ever seen a pair of Marigolds - they slam on their Ride CDs while stacking the dishwasher. This is civilised rock, bashed out by four Oxford guys so gaunt and winsome that you'd never believe them capable of filling the Royal Albert Hall to its rafters with feedback.

But they do, notably with a fierce, relentless encore of 'Drive Blind' which is distended by five minutes of bone-rattling distortion. Earlier, there was a sweeter version accompanied by a string section tucked beside the stage. With violins jabbing, the melody unravelling itself and Mark Gardener caught in a crossfire of spotlights that bleached his features, the song was a model of fragility.

Any surprises, such as the dimestore light-show (imagine Pink Floyd with an overhead projector) are, in the Ride house style, fumbled and awkward. 'We're gonna attempt a Small Faces song now,' announces co-singer / guitarist Andy Bell, almost by way of apology, before launching into 'That Man'. And the gorgeous 'I Don't Know Where it Comes From' gets a leaden, unpleasant outing, though the unveiling of a 12-strong boys' choir, whose members look like extras from The Duchess of Malfi, is a welcome diversion.

Ride have little presence, but as musicians they've shaped up into one of the country's sharpest outfits. It's Andy Bell who has come to define them. In a cream polo- neck, brown slacks and grubby blond mop-top, he looks more like Ilya Kuryakin than a spunky guitar hero. But the best songs on the recent hippyish Carnival of Light album are his. Gardener is writing for the band that Ride were three years ago. Bell is reaching further, into the darkness.

Fittingly, the writer Dennis Cooper has declared his lust for Bell. The eponymous combo of Cooper's short story 'Introducing Horror Hospital' is worryingly familiar: 'Four scrawny teenagers plugged in their instruments. One, running a hand through his spew of hair, stared blankly at the audience for a couple of seconds. 'Oh hi,' he yawned.' Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely freaky, man.

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