Platitudes about flattery don’t go very far in justifying Bush’s unnatural attachment to the fabulous sounds of the Pacific Northwest. On Sixteen Stone, the thunderous English quartet displays the manipulative skill of bionic engineers, playing stylistic charades in a gene pool stocked with the sounds of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Mudhoney. The sizzlingly raw, carefully inexact production by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley is as commercially calculated as a gambling casino, alternately wrapping singer/guitarist Gavin Rossdale’s thick, quivering passion in distorted blankets of barbed-wire guitar overdrive and claustrophobic emptiness. Haphazardly abstruse-going-on-dumb lyrics and songs clumsily hooked together from discontinuous bits (the worst offender in both regards being “Everything Zen,” the hodgepodge hit that switches from a climactic chant of “I don’t believe that Elvis is dead” to end with the unrelated and equally nonsensical anthem, “There’s no sex in your violence”) are actually a bigger problem than the shameless sonic appropriation. Bush goes about its dirty business with such intense conviction and pride that it’s nearly impossible to begrudge the band its pretensions.
Presumably in an effort to gain some credibility amid the second wave of grunge, Bush enlisted producer Steve Albini, and set about making a decidedly noisier album. Razorblade Suitcase, if less pedantic than Sixteen Stone, is just as derivative, and Rossdale’s lyrics are as heavy-handed as ever. Still, Albini’s crystal- clear production and such songs as “Greedy Fly,” “Cold Contagious” and the admittedly catchy stop-start single “Swallowed” improved Bush’s standing – at least for a time.
The improvements evident on Razorblade Suitcase were quickly erased by the remix abomination Deconstructed. A bad idea to begin with, it processes songs from Bush’s first two albums through some of the leading electronica producers of the day to predictably bad effect. Even with the likes of Goldie, Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers and the Dub Pistols on board, Bush’s metallic din is infertile ground for these dancefloor mix-up treatments. Only Tricky’s spooky production on the Joy Division obscurity “In a Lonely Place” – Bush’s previously non-albumized poke at critics who called them clueless poseurs — is worth hearing.
The Science of Things is a solid effort, and probably Bush’s most accomplished album. Nigel Pulsford’s underrated lead guitar work finally takes center stage, and Rossdale’s excesses are reigned in by the return of Langer and Winstanley. Helpfully, Bush trot out their best batch of songs: the lovely restraint of “Letting the Cables Sleep,” the thundering “Warm Machine,” the punchy clatter of “Prize Fighter.” Rossdale’s singing fiancée (more recently wife), Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, even makes an appearance, doing background on the atmospheric paranoia of “Space Travel.” The pre-millennial release contemplates technology gone awry, and that focus does Bush wonders here. All in all, nicely done.
Golden State finds Bush in a state of confusion more than anything else. The songwriting is weak, and the lyrics meander meaninglessly through cliché after cliché. The restraint that so benefited The Science of Things is gone; trite song titles (“My Engine Is With You”?) abound. Bush has clearly run short of ideas this time. Soon after the album’s commercial failure, Pulsford quietly quit the band, leaving Bush’s future in doubt. Perhaps Rossdale could join No Doubt.