or rather you have confused excitement with the fear of missing out / which is understandable as these two feelings are very closely related
focusing as they do on the heart and the groin and ending in a bloody mess / pregnancy tests, and too little sleep
–“singing of the bonesaws,” future of the left
* * *
In light of the above undeniable truths, 1% JIHAD brings you NO CANON. NO CANON is a recurring column in which we’ll pass over the music that you’re suppose to be excited about and take a look instead at the shit you’ve been told isn’t worth your time. Given the amazing preponderance of said time, we find that it’s usually worth yr giving it.
Shouts out to the late-of-the-Internet “SHALLOW REWARDS” video series for the title and spirit of this column.
I. I DON’T BELIEVE THAT ELVIS IS DEAD
I’m hard-pressed to think of a band that’s received the same outlandish critical/commercial response as English post-grunge band Bush. Chalk it up to timing – “Nevermind” was released in September of 1991. Kurt Cobain killed himself in April of 1994. Bush released their debut, “Sixteen Stone,” on December 6 of the same year. So, basically, they were fucked.
Early reviews were not entirely bad, and US sales were pretty astronomical for a British band doing something so many well-respected American bands were already doing pretty well – “Sixteen Stone” peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and has since gone 6x platinum. Its five singles (“Everything Zen,” “Little Things,” “Comedown,” “Glycerine,” and “Machinehead”) all did remarkably well on the American charts and are ubiquitous on alt radio to this day. The wildly dull video for “Glycerine” won the MTV Viewer’s Choice Award mainly because of Gavin Rossdale’s cheekbones. (1) But time – and by time I mean the couple months that it took the dust to settle – was not kind to Bush, and critics/Kurtheads were writing them off as hacks before they made their first Rolling Stone cover.
And, yes, admittedly, Gavin Rossdale does sound like Kurt if Kurt had been born in a posh London suburb, but he’s a technically better singer, and Kurt sang like he was raised in Kentucky rather than notorious shithole Aberdeen, WA, so fuck it. Nigel Pulsford was a technically better guitarist than Cobain. Drummer Robin Goodridge is no Dave Grohl, but he and bassist Dave Parsons were a perfectly competent rhythm section. These aren’t bad musicians, nor is Rossdale a bad songwriter. In fact, those five singles from “Sixteen Stone” are all pretty goddamn excellent, and – if we’re being perfectly honest – stacked next to “Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are,” “Lithium,” and “In Bloom,” they might actually sit a bit higher.* So why are Bush considered such a “bad” band? I mean, have you listened to “Comedown” recently? If you’re looking for heavy, melodic rock music with over-emoted vocals and thick, distorted guitars (and if you like grunge, that is exactly what you’re looking for), look no further. These guys took the formula Nirvana popularized and whittled it down almost algorithmically to it’s barest essence. Sure, it helped that Gavin Rossdale is an outstandingly beautiful man (proto-Kroeger locks aside), but that doesn’t make it fair to criticize him for ripping off another notoriously beautiful man who famously admitted to cribbing his biggest hit from the Pixies, and some of whose other biggest hits are covers. It’s not like Cobain’s vocal style was even authentically his, but no one ever called him out for ripping off Leadbelly, now did they? No – Kurt’s canonization came by way of drug overdose, which, let’s face it, is not exactly fair.
Thing is, Bush didn’t really make it easy on themselves. Most of the songs on “Sixteen Stone” have direct analogues on “Nevermind” – “Comedown” is “In Bloom,” “Everything Zen” is “Come As You Are,” “X-Girlfriend” is “Territorial Pissings” (complete with goofy intro), “Glycerine” is “Something In The Way,” “Bomb,” at least for the first two minutes, is “Polly,” “Little Things” is very clearly “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” though with the chords from “Self-Esteem.” I could go on (2). Then there’s the fact that Rossdale briefly dated Courtney Love (who, get this, had nothing bad to say about him, even when pressed). And then they went ahead and tapped Steve fucking Albini to produce their “difficult” second album, “Razorblade Suitcase.”
II. HELL IS WHERE THE HEART IS
“Suitcase” isn’t “In Utero,” and, despite all appearances to the contrary, I don’t think it really even wanted to be. Even if it did, it’s actually maybe better. Gone are the (massive, impressive) hooks of “Sixteen Stone,” but in their place is a dense, atmospheric, noisy listen that sounds fucking awesome despite being at least fifteen minutes too long (3). Albini even told SPIN that he’d spent more time and energy on “Suitcase” than any record he’d worked on to date (4). Rossdale insists that his primary influence in the decision to hire Albini, as well as to get 4AD’s in-house designer Vaughan Oliver to do the cover, was his extreme love of the Pixies. Sound familiar?
Truth is, “Suitcase” sounds very little like “In Utero,” musically speaking. Even if it did, that would only be a problem because “In Utero,” Albini’s production and a few excellent songs aside, really doesn’t hold that much water (no pun intended). The production on “Suitcase” is fantastic, with Albini’s signature perfect drum mic’ing, hatred for synthetic reverb, and excellent use of room sound. The lead guitar lines on lead single “Swallowed” are reminiscent of nothing if not the slippery work of Joey Santiago. “Insect Kin” sounds like it could be an early Unwound cut. The utterly weird string interjections on “Straight No Chaser” kicks “All Apologies” to the curb. Not a single song on this record, with the possible exception of “Mouth,” is as memorable as anything on “Sixteen Stone,” but it’s worth at least one spin for the sonics alone.
The general thrust of the “SPIN” cover story on Bush, published in advance of “Suitcase,” is that Gavin Rossdale is just too damn nice (5). He had a pretty decent childhood – he’s not really into anything harder than pot (of which he smokes a shitton) – the ex who inspired the saddest songs on “Suitcase” is still a good friend. If it takes great internal strife to make worthwhile music, then fuck worthwhile music. Others have said this before, and better, but let’s reiterate – Kurt Cobain received universal love and acclaim as much for being a junkie enfant terrible dickhead with clear emotional problems as much as for writing some very good songs. Gavin Rossdale got written off for being a quality, well-adjusted human being and an excellent songwriter, and for being very, very pretty.
Bush did nothing worth your time after “Razorblade Suitcase”, by which I mean I’ve never listened to any of it. Supposedly they went down some sort of weird electro-influenced rabbit hole, which sounds like one of the two worst things they could have possibly done. They broke up after four albums in 2002, then reformed in 2010 with a modified lineup, which is the other worst thing they could have possibly done. They’ve got their second post-reunion album out in just a couple weeks – I can’t imagine it’ll be any good, though given Rossdale’s evident songwriting abilities, maybe it will. Rossdale married Gwen Stefani in 2002, after having had some sort of romance with her ever since their bands toured together in 1995 (can you imagine seeing that lineup?), and the two seem to have one of the healthiest celebrity relationships in recent memory. Rossdale also gets major points from us at 1%J for appearing as the demonic Balthazar in Keanu Reeves classic “Constantine.”
Questions of authenticity and originality in recorded music have been around as long as recorded music itself. I don’t especially want to delve very deep into them right now, or ever, because they’re largely pretty boring, and generally biased towards who did it first rather than who did it best. Just go listen to Bush, and try to forget Nirvana ever existed. You might actually enjoy yourself.
(1) Their success was mostly American – audiences in their homeland were too obsessed with some brawling, coked-up brothers with unfortunate eyebrows to show any interest. No one in England knew who Bush were until their second record came out.
(3) At 61 minutes, it’s 20 longer than In Utero, but anyone who says that album isn’t itself a major fucking slog is lying to themselves.
(4) Said records include, but are not limited to unqualified classics “Surfer Rosa,” “Goat,” “Liar,” “24 Hour Revenge Therapy,” “Pod,” “In On The Kill Taker,” “Rid Of Me,” “No Pocky For Kitty,” “At Action Park,” the entire fucking Big Black discography, and, yes, “In Utero.” Point being, let’s take “Razorblade Suitcase” seriously, please.
(5) The Internet is an amazing thing. You can read every issue of SPIN ever published for free on Google Books. Did you know that Faith No More was the band of 1990? I sure didn’t. Try it, it’s worth it for the Damon Stoudamire shampoo ads alone.
* EDITORIAL NOTE – 1%J as a whole does not endorse this radical opinion.