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