The Buzz: New Bush album lacks innovation

by Amy Borer

With its second album debuting last week at the top of the national record sales charts, guest spots on television shows including “Saturday Night Live” and cover stories in magazines such as Spin, the alternative rock band Bush seems to have hit the height of its popularity. At least in the United States.

Nevertheless, the road to success wasn’t so easy for the London-based band led by guitarist/vocalist Gavin Rossdale.

Formed approximately four years ago, the members of Bush met as painters.

“I thought, if we could paint and whistle and talk so well together, we might as well start a band,” said Rossdale in a biography put out by the band’s label, Trauma/Interscope Records. “The other three were really good painters, really good.”

The three that Rossdale refers to are guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge.

Bush, named after Shepherd’s Bush, the suburb of London from which the band hails, endured two years of playing in rundown pubs or at parties for friends before signing with its Los Angeles-based label and releasing their first album, “Sixteen Stone,” which became a huge hit with American audiences.

Yet, despite its popularity in the United States, the band remains practically unknown in it’s native England. According to a cover story in Spin this month, Rossdale can still walk the streets of London without being recognized, a feat impossible in the United States where he can’t step outside without being mobbed by groups of adoring teenage girls.

Now, two years after the prodigious debut album, “Sixteen Stone,” the band’s popularity is still blossoming. But even so, the much awaited new release “Razorblade Suitcase” is a slight disappointment.

However, some credit should be given to the guys in Bush for releasing a pure, alternative rock album.

“Razorblade Suitcase” is the epitome of what the genre should be: dark, brooding and filled with angst. It is, as Entertainment Weekly puts it, “the music equivalent of a drug withdrawal.”

Following suit, each song on the album is haunting and vindictive, with themes such as personal relationships and suicide. In “Personal Holloway,” Rossdale sings, “She’s blue in the face again/Sleep the darkness all away/And drinking kitchen paint to dye the winter I hope we’ll never see again.” These themes are nearly mirrored in “Distant Voices,” as Rossdale moans “I’m gonna find my way to the sun/If I destroy myself, I can move on.”

Rossdale’s band mates provide hard, crashing riffs in accompaniment to his sorrowful verse, completing a strong, angst-ridden package.

Yet these standards in the alternative rock scene are just what causes “Razorblade Suitcase” to be disheartening. The same elements that made the genre so innovative and fresh when it burst out of Seattle in 1990 now make Bush’s album seem like something that’s been heard many times before.

Rossdale’s voice has a wonderfully woeful and distinct sound to it, but it’s almost too reminiscent of Kurt Cobain, the late frontman of Nirvana. To make matters worse, “Razorblade Suitcase” was produced by Nirvana collaborator Steve Albini. Isn’t Bush from London, not Seattle? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Perhaps what most makes the album hard to digest is that the band truly isn’t angst-ridden. They are a group of guys who love to play music and have fun doing so together. Rossdale has even admitted to the fact that he had a normal, overall happy upbringing. The only thing Rossdale has to be sad about is the demise of a relationship with a long-term girlfriend, but if the rumors of a romantic involvement with Gwen Stefani of No Doubt are true, his heartache should be eased.

“Razorblade Suitcase” is definitely a good study in the alternative rock genre. The major disappointment lies in the fact that nothing new was created by a relatively fresh, young band. For those who are content with more of the same sound that came from Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam a couple of years ago, the album is a great buy. However, people hoping for something innovative or different had best pass this one up.

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