photo & text by nacrowe
i always found it a particularly CURIOUS decision that BRITISH ALTERNATIVE ROCK band BUSH decided to utilize the services of notoriously SPARTAN record "producer" STEVE ALBINI (PIXIES, THE JESUS LIZARD, PJ HARVEY, HELMET, THE BREEDERS, FUGAZI) on their second album RAZORBLADE SUITCASE (TRAUMA, 1996) and the follow-up to their incredibly commercially SUCCESSFUL debut SIXTEEN STONE (review linked HERE). ALBINI is a recording PURIST who sees his role solely as a vehicle via his audio engineering skills for bands and songwriters to effectively communicate their art. he does not have a sound per se and is not interested in assisting with compositional or artistic decisions. the CELEBRATED records that ALBINI is associated with are all sonically DIVERSE and showcase the recording artist usually unadorned with little reverb or studio trickery. just precise mic-ing techniques in dry studios with minimal takes, the result being rather BARE and INTIMATE portraits of the artists themselves.
for KURT COBAIN and NIRVANA this was exactly the vibe they wanted given the LUSH, largely OVERDUBBED and wide-screen aural landscape present in BUTCH VIG's recording of NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991). the sound of IN UTERO (DGC, 1993) was a direct reaction to the previous record, which in turn was a reaction to the decidedly RUDIMENTARY and GRUNGY sound of the JACK ENDINO-produced BLEACH (SUB POP, 1989) before it. there is a sonic transition taking place that showcased the EVER-EVOLVING sound COBAIN was chasing that led him from ENDINO to VIG to ALBINI.
with BUSH, from the get-go they were critically MALIGNED for being OPPORTUNISTIC NIRVANA wannabes, which was a little UNFAIR but you can see from a marketing angle the niche singer and main songwriter GAVIN ROSSDALE was filling. NIRVANA left a massive void on radio, MTV and in the culture at large and post-GRUNGE bands like BUSH, CANDLEBOX, EVERCLEAR and even the FOO FIGHTERS were attempting to address. what i dont understand is that if you are being critiqued as being a clone of another band, why would your sophomore album be produced by the same producer of said band's sophomore effort. that decision wreaks of a criminal lack of SELF-REFLECTION and outright ARROGANCE because RAZORBLADE SUITCASE is not on the same level as IN UTERO.
and its not like BUSH was alone with this dynamic. take the STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, whose CORE (review linked HERE) was constantly and unfavorably being compared with PEARL JAM at the time of its release. looking back i dont hear the commonalities, but that might be in part because STONE TEMPLE PILOTS and frontman SCOTT WEILAND effectively EVOLVED on subsequent releases that brought in outside DISPARATE and ENERGETIC elements (70s GLAM ROCK, 60s PSYCHEDELIA) to their sound that veered far away from the more INTROSPECTIVE FOLK and CLASSIC ROCK elements mined by PEARL JAM.
at the time i just didnt understand why BUSH attempted to sound (again) like NIRVANA so explicitly on their second go around. song-wise the material was sub-par to their debut, with singles like "GREEDY FLY," "COLD CONTAGIOUS" and "SWALLOWED" not being the MEMORABLE and ANTHEMIC numbers that songs like "EVERYTHING ZEN," "GLYCERINE," "MACHINEHEAD" and "LITTLE THINGS" were previously. its really a stretch to buy into the notion that ROSSDALE was SOCIALLY INEPT and SULLEN given his model looks and celebrity romantic dalliances throughout this period, which seems to be the narratorial perspective throughout the songs on RAZORBLADE SUITCASE. it just wreaks of INAUTHENTICITY. before his death, COBAIN repeatedly voiced his DISCOMFORT with AMERICAN celebrity culture and sought valiantly to utilize such a platform to advocate for political causes he supported (anti-homophobia, sexism and racism) and bands and songwriters he felt deserved more shine from the national press (THE RAINCOATS, MELVINS, DANIEL JOHNSTON, THE VASELINES, THE MEAT PUPPETS, SHONEN KNIFE, THE BREEDERS, HALF JAPANESE). ROSSDALE in comparison has no DISTINGUISHING agenda or cultural community he is representing outside of himself. dude felt like a scab at the time.
the next album with its electronic embellishments seems to be when BUSH finally found his lane as a musician. id advocated to start with THE SCIENCE OF THINGS (TRAUMA, 1999) and work your way backwards. maybe even skip RAZORBLADE SUITCASE entirely.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
its always cool to learn about the INSPIRATION for ART. longtime BRITISH music periodical NME on their youtube channel has for several years had an ongoing video series called SONG STORIES in which they have celebrated musicians explain the initial spark and CREATIVE PROCESS that brought about notable tracks. past participants include JOHNNY MARR (THE SMITHS), PETER HOOK (JOY DIVISION), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS), TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB, BRETT ANDERSON (SUEDE), PHOENIX, OLI SYKES (BRING ME THE HORIZON), IAN MCCULLOCH (ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN), JOEY SANTIAGO & DAVID LOVERING (THE PIXIES), JIMMY EAT WORLD, GAVIN ROSSDALE (BUSH), ROYAL BLOOD, BOBBY GILLESPIE (PRIMAL SCREAM) and COURTNEY BARNETT among many others.
while i understand that MUSIC, LITERATURE and ART all have unique narratives that brought about their CREATION, the SOLIPSISTIC truth of the matter is that their longevity is how such became intertwined in the countless personal narratives of individuals the world over. for me music is the ultimate time transportation vehicle as i can listen to a STRANGLERS song and immediately be back in my parents old dilapidated HONDA ACCORD being driven to a weekend soccer match in the early 1990s. the POWER OF MUSIC is not in the CREATOR but in the LISTENER, who effectively completes the circuit.
although as a fan of art i still love getting to know how songs were constructed and what value they imparted or exorcised on the part of the SONGWRITER. endlessly INTRIGUING. NME's SONG STORIES is definitely worth further investigation. highly recommended.
photo & text by nacrowe
often getting pegged as a opportunistic NIRVANA wannabes by music critics, which to some extent is accurate, what always struck me in retrospect about this BRITISH post-GRUNGE ALTERNATIVE ROCK band is how disconnected they were from what was actually current on there side of the pond at the time, namely BRITPOP.
all the manufactured ALTERNATIVE ROCK trappings are there: off-set guitars (check), opaque lyrics (check) soft verse/loud chorus a la THE PIXIES (check), vague anthems celebrating discontent (check). whereas KURT COBAIN had a troubled solitary upbringing that scarred him psychologically as an adult and unquestionably influenced his sense of identity and his art, with BUSH frontman GAVIN ROSSDALE you get the opposite. you are presented a polished, well-adjusted BRIT with model looks. it was an interesting inversion of a ROCK N ROLL archetype.
not that i knew or would have cared about any of this the first time i heard BUSH. i can remember during my elementary years in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA hearing several tracks off of their debut, SIXTEEN STONE (TRAUMA, 1994), like "MACHINEHEAD," "COMEDOWN," "LITTLE THINGS" and especially "EVERYTHING ZEN" and never picking up on the fact that they were ENGLISH. in fact, i thought GREEN DAY were BRITISH given the unique cadence and affectation of BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG's voice at the time. i should also mention i had the benefit of growing up sans MTV since my family didnt have cable during that period and none of my classmates did either (the internet was still almost a decade away from popular widespread usage).
with all that being said, i think that the one thing ROSSDALE is never given credit for, especially with SIXTEEN STONE, was his ability to write some memorable songs. were they derivative and openly mimicking NIRVANA? absolutely. but they werent the first or the last to do such and arguably they were probably better at it than most (do i need to even mention CANDLEBOX or COLLECTIVE SOUL?). i just wish that ROSSDALE had the sense not to be so obvious about his hero worship, like getting STEVE ALBINI to record the follow-up a la IN UTERO (DGC, 1993). why force the comparison between you and a celebrated icon whose cultural gravity will swallow and ultimately dwarf your creative efforts.
i never understood that.