Tuesday 13 December 2022

Bush - The Art of Survival (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Alternative
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 7 Oct 2022
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I thought Bush would be the latest in the list of mainstream alternative British bands that I hadn't heard before, mostly because I can't grok the concept that an alternative band can break into the mainstream and remain alternative. Bush's debut album, Sixteen Stone, has sold six million copies in the States alone. That's the definition of mainstream to me. So they don't sound like Madonna? Alternative should mean more than that. Anyway, I checked out Sixteen Stone and realised that I'd heard it before. I knew Everything Zen and Comedown and just hadn't associated the songs with a band name. I'd just dumped them in the Nirvana clone bucket, even though they did it well, and I'd moved it to the back of my mind.

Now, that was 1994. This is 2022 and grunge isn't the flavour of the month any more, but it's still a key part of Bush's sound. It seems to me that they've built on it rather than replaced it, with some more progressive elements added to the mix, especially in songs like May Your Love Be Pure. That means that what you get out of this may depend on where you're coming from. If you're a grunge fan, as most old school Bush fans presumably were, then this will feel familiar but adventurous in its way, so post-grunge if that's a thing.

If, however, you're coming to this from the hard rock side, you'll find much to like but you may also find it a little restrictive, only hinting at where it could go. You wouldn't find any of the keyboards here on an early nineties grunge album and some of the riffs wouldn't fit either, because they're a lot closer to other genres than traditional grunge. Kiss Me I'm Dead shifts towards the traditional hard rock sound but Identity goes full on nu metal, albeit without changing Gavin Rossdale's vocal delivery.

I'd noted down that I was surprised at how heavy this feels long before that song arrived eight into the album. The opener is appropriately called Heavy is the Ocean, because it's a heavy song, not a fast song or a particularly urgent song, but it's heavy from the outset, especially through the tone of Chris Traynor's guitar. It remains heavy all the way to Identity, after which Creatures of the Fire underlines how heavy it was by taking it away. It returns for Judas is a Riot.

Just like the Slave New World album I reviewed right before it, this isn't metal, but it's surely had thoughts about going there, as if it might be a future option. Of course, Occam's Razor would say that this is merely more Smells Like Teen Spirit than anything else on Nevermind, which wouldn't be unfair, but maybe it's just current trend in production. 1000 Years isn't the only song that hints that they could move more into commercial alternative rock, in the vein of Radiohead. However, I wouldn't expect them to do that either.

Bush are clearly very good at what they do, explaining those six million sales for their debut, even though Rossdale is the only founder member left. While that suggests another band in flux, there have been very few line-up changes over the years, each instrument only swapping hands once. In fact, the only change before the band split up in 2002 was Traynor stepping in when Nigel Pulsford left to spend more time with his family. Bassist Dave Parsons didn't return when they reformed in 2010, Corey Britz joining in his stead. The only change since then was Robin Goodridge leaving and Nik Hughes replacing him in 2019. That's pretty stable.

And maybe that explains that, while 1000 Years reiterates that they're "slowly sinking", it would be fairer to say that they're slowly evolving, at a steady enough pace that this doesn't sound entirely like that debut album eighteen years ago but hasn't pissed off band members left and right. And, if that suggests comfortable then that's probably a fair word to use. Appropriately, given its title, Identity hints at a paradigm shift into nu metal, which I wouldn't recommend, but this is otherwise pretty safe territory for a band who sounded like Nirvana eighteen years ago. Is the fact that they don't know enough? How you answer that question may determine what you think of this album. I see it as decent and capable but ultimately safe and forgettable.

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