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Bush Cut Away From "Wannabe Grunge" with Razorblade Suitcase

Who would have thought that a pretty face would be such a liability? Yet

for Bush singer/writer/guitarist Gavin Rossdale, posterboy good looks have

been a curse that has, thus far, prevented Bush from being taken seriously

by the music press (music fans are a different story; seven million copies

of the group's debut, Sixteen Stone, have sold thus far).

Why do I think that if Rossdale looked a little funkier, a little more

offbeat like Eddie V. or Chris Cornell or, oh, even Noel Gallagher, that

Bush would be seen as an "important" band?

An admission: although I liked "Everything Zen" quite a bit, Sixteen

Stone just wasn't an album I spent much time with. I lumped the

group--unfairly--with the Stone Temple Pilots as grunge wannabes (a

misconception that their choice of "producer" Steve Albini for the new

album seemed, when I first heard about it, to confirm). And I held that

position right up until the first time I listened to Razorblade

Suitcase.

And that's when I realized that everything I'd assumed about Bush was dead

wrong.

Make no mistake: Razorblade Suitcase is an awesome album, an album

that is miles ahead of the group's debut. While many bands sophomore

effort is something of a disappointment, success (or something) has

inspired Bush to take chances, work with a radical record producer and

create a stunning work, in years to come, may well signify the sound of

the winter of '97.

If you've caught the group's cool video for "Swallowed" (on MTV pretty

much 'round the clock at the moment), then you know what I'm talking

about. We're talking major raw rock album here. Razorblade Suitcase

is that rare work that combines

melodic hooks, intriguing lyrics, guitar riffs and sounds that connect

directly to the audio pleasure center and a Great Rock Voice.

The fury and desperation of being backed into a corner is what I hear in

the roar of "A Tendency To Start Fires." Rossdale writes fragmentary

lyrics that convey a feeling rather then communicate an straightforward

message. Yet there is no mistaking what he's talking about when he sings,

in "Mouth," that "Nothing hurts like your mouth." The wounds that a lover

can inflict with just a few words.

"Straight No Chaser," which begins with just Rossdale's voice set to

sparse electric guitar and violin, details the betrayal you feel after

realizing that you can't

"have it all," and that a lover can't insulate you from the "war on all

sides," that is life in the '90s.

But don't think you have to wade knee deep into neurosis to dig this

album. You can get off on the pure sonic rush of track after track. Trip

on the nervous guitars that coarse through "Insect Kin," the delayed

climax when the verse resolves to the chorus, and the intensely sexual

musical outro that plays out as Rossdale sings: "There's all the pain/ In

the way she talks/ All the pain/ In the way she walks/ All the pain in her

wave good-bye/ All the pain in the way she smiles/ All the pain in her

fatal charm/ All the pain in her arms."

Credit must be given to the amazing Steve Albini, the record producer who

doesn't consider himself a "record producer." "Recorded by Steve Albini"

is the credit Albini takes on this album (as he has on others). Given his

track record (Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt, to mention a few), I have

to believe that Albini played a crucial role in helping Bush strip away

the bullshit and record an album that contains absolutely no fat.

The dynamics at work here really make many these songs. Consider the way

Rossdale's vocals play against the roar of the music, the way "Mouth"

opens with quiet, restrained guitars and rhythm section, before a loud

furious rock noise is briefly released, only to be contained just when you

expect the song to blow wide open. Eventually, of course, the songs does

explode as Rossdale repeats over and over and over: "Mouth, mouth, mouth."

The album ends on a dark fatalistic note with "Distant Voices." "I'm gonna

find my way to the sun," sings Rossdale. "When I destroy myself I can

shine on." Better to burn out than to fade away, Neil Young sang about

Johnny Rotten. Kurt Rossdale seems to agree. Only Young wasn't talking

about self-destruction, but rather the blaze in which the Sex Pistols

ended a brief "career" (if you can call it that) the first time around. It

would be a shame if Rossdale is really intent self-destructing.

With Razorblade Suitcase Bush have made it clear that they're

contenders. Let's hope they stick around for the next round.