Seven years ago, Bush singer Gavin Rossdale entered the spotlight screaming the lines, "Everything zen? Everything zen?/ I don't think so." While he was reflecting the frustration and disenchantment of the era, he might well have been singing about Bush circa 2001.
After 1999's techno-influenced The Science of Things failed to compute for many of the band's fans, the English quartet Rossdale, guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge went defiantly back into the studio to try to recapture some of their former bluster. And despite what Billboard's charts might suggest, life doesn't end at 30.
"It's so crazy to me that people question whether it's still viable for me to be doing this," Rossdale griped over the phone from his London home shortly before the band released its turbulent new single, "The People That We Love," to radio. (The song had been titled "Speed Kills," but that was changed after the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the single, Rossdale sings, "The things we do to the people that we love/ The way we break into something in the wake/ Destroy the world that we took so long to make.")
"No one should sit down at age 30 and go, 'Well, it's time for the slippers.' You need to express things if you're an artist, and that has nothing to do with age. Sometimes I wish I'd chosen to work in a different medium. No one asks classical musicians or playwrights if they think they're too old to create."
Bush's fourth album, Golden State, arrives October 23 and marks a return to their rock roots. Rossdale has turned back the clock and returned to the visceral rock riffs and yearning, earnest melodies that first inspired him to pick up a guitar.
"We tried to lose our inhibitions and make a primal rock record," he said. "It was a return to the band esthetic. There's something really powerful about four people playing together."
Not all of Golden State is as punchy as "The People That We Love." The opening cut, "Solutions," seesaws between melancholy reflection and guitar bombast. "Superman" opens with brooding bass and ringing guitars before blossoming into a sumptuous chorus. "Fugitive" is choppy and insistent, drawing strength from a propulsive rhythm and eerie, echoing guitar noises. And "Head Full of Ghosts" is a slow, pain-stricken ode full of haunting guitars, aching vocals and the repeated line, "Where is my head, where are my bones?"
"It's a really weird, majestic track," Rossdale said of "Head Full of Ghosts," adding that it might be the record's second single. "It's so mournful and sad. It gets me right in my stomach when I hear it, which is how I know I've done a track right."
Majestic and euphoric overall, Golden State had a shaky beginning last November. After returning to its London rehearsal room following a three-month break, the band took a while to rediscover its collective muse.
"It went slower than we all expected it to," admitted Rossdale. "We were together for five weeks and I was like, 'Oh f---, this sounds really sh--ty!'."
The songs began to take shape two weeks before Christmas, but the entire project was put on hold for 21 days when the Los Angeles studio the band had booked proved unsatisfactory.
"That was a total drag because we didn't want to just go back to rehearsing," Rossdale said. "We lost a bit of momentum but soon got it back. The rest of the experience was really good.
"I love being in the studio," he continued after a long pause. "You play something and hear it back. You try to get it right. You love each other and hate each other. It's crazy, but it's a really cool experience. I'd hate to give it up."