Lush often sounded like a more pop-based Cocteau Twins, with hints of My Bloody Valentine’s noise sheets. A gushing, twin-guitar overdrive with forward surges serves the shapely melodies; guitarists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, who write the band’s songs separately, add distinctive harmonies to every number. (Mad Love was produced by the Cocteaus’ Robin Guthrie, which furthers Lush’s comparisons to that band.)
Bowing with the six-song Scar, this winsome young London noise-pop quartet combines guitarist Miki Berenyi’s wispy voice with wanton semi-freakout playing. Although some songs are not as tuneful as they might be (Lush stood well left of the Primitives), memorable items like the thick “Scarlet” and the float-away “Etheriel” — both co-written by Berenyi and guitarist Emma Anderson — arrange the band’s basic components with naîve ingenuity.
Guthrie gives the band a more intricately textured sound (turning up the distorted rhythm guitars, for one thing) on the four-song Mad Love, but it only half suits Lush’s skills and style. While Berenyi makes the most of “De-Luxe” and “Thoughtforms” (on which she sounds like Kirsty MacColl fronting the Cocteaus), Chris Acland’s busy drumming isn’t a beneficial contribution.
Besides compiling the EPs in their entirety, Gala adds two more Guthrie collaborations (a nifty cover of ABBA’s “Hey Hey Helen” and a much lighter second version of “Scarlet”), plus three subsequent tracks produced by Tim Friese-Greene, who divides Lush’s music into distinct segments of guitar craziness and overly restrained pop orderliness. Though an inconsistent collection (blame the uneven material), “De-Luxe” (from Mad Love) and the whooshing “Breeze” (from the Friese-Greene-produced Sweetness and Light) are among the band’s best efforts.
Spooky, then, is Lush’s first proper album, recorded in one stretch in one place (and with a transitional bassist, the original one having left). Strangely, this more refined effort — again produced by Guthrie — seems just as disjointed and haphazard as Gala. The second half is stronger than the first, highlighted by Berenyi’s “For Love.” Piling one hook on just as another recedes, moving from scintillating verse to hot chorus with a stunning bridge, this cynical take on those obsessed with being in love is a knockout. Anderson’s distortion-marbled “Superblast!” is well-titled; her “Monochrome” provides an introspective close to the album. Despite its flaws, Spooky is still beguiling.
While employing more diverse tempos and styles than usual, Split doesn’t reformulate Lush (now containing Phil King as permanent bassist) so much as toughen the sound and bring the band into more disciplined focus. In addition, both songwriters have made great lyrical strides. Co-producer Mike Hedges tightens and pushes the group in a way Guthrie didn’t, but Lush retains its playful charm in sunnier numbers like “Lovelife.” Lifted by dramatic, cinematic strings and accented by what sound like tuned glasses being struck, Berenyi’s gorgeous “Light From a Dead Star” opens the album with the most tearing, sad track of Lush’s career, a song of adult hurt at being left behind by wandering hearts. Throughout the album (two-thirds written by Anderson, although Berenyi’s songs are stronger), frank expressions of bitterness, heartbreak, spite and regret give the band emotional ballast previously missing. Singing over thick layers of fuzz-guitar pop, Miki rips into a supposed friend for a romantic transgression in “Hypocrite,” but allows herself to be tagged by anger’s whiplash. “I’m sure you think it’s OK/What you’ve done to me/’Cause I’m so bad to him…I dish it out but I can’t take it/I know you think it’s wrong/And maybe you’re right but this is my song.”
Lush switched gears on Lovelife, toning down the woolly guitar rush and applying themselves to the fashionable mid-’90s Britpop sound that incorporates both ’60s influences and large doses of ’70s punk/new wave. The peppy “Single Girl” and “Ladykillers” could have been recorded by Elastica, Sleeper or even Echobelly. (In fairness, Lush displayed this sort of direct edge in its early EPs, when those groups didn’t even exist.) Lush’s lyrics are again sharp and insightful; both of those songs (and others on Lovelife) attack immature, self-obsessed men who take women for a ride. The album’s funniest number is “Ciao!,” a hilarious continental sendup of male/female duets in which Berenyi and guest vocalist Jarvis Cocker of Pulp share a vitriolic view of their ended affair. Meanwhile, strings and horns (as on Anderson’s “Tra La La” and the airy and sophisticated folk-pop of her album- ending “Olympia”) extend an olive branch to fans of the band’s older obsessions.
Acland killed himself in October 1996.