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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Potpourri: Lush - Spooky

Lush - Spooky
1992 Reprise Records



Gads, do I miss this band and woe is the day I didn't call out sick when a free ticket to see Lush came my way one night then Jane's Addiction the next. Talk about things you kick yourself later for...

London's Lush was one of those psych alt bands of the nineties like Cocteau Twins, Kitchens of Distinction, Ride, Blue Aeroplanes and My Bloody Valentine and while Lush's hypnotic form of sonic expression could only be bested by the Cocteau Twins, the British fuzz trippers found brief notoriety for themselves, largely due to a spaced-out rhythm section that defined audile effervesence, at least on their first two official records, Gala and the translucent Spooky.

Time would prove Lush to be the most commercially-ambitious of the entire lot given the eventual defragmentation of their bread and butter sound walls fortified on Gala and Spooky, the former being a collection of their Scar, Mad Love and Sweetness and Light EPs. Spooky is a bridge album in Lush's way-too-brief career, yet it's one of their greatest accomplishments. Of course, that depends on your propensity for the more streamlined punk and alt rock grooves Lush would seek out on Split and Lovelife. Strangely enough, you find Lush fans frequently subdivided bewtween the Gala camp and the Split and Lovelife camp, while Spooky is the bastard stepchild plying for attention between the two.

I suppose the writing was on the wall with the positively yummy "For Love" on Spooky that indicated Lush's desire to be a commercial powerhouse outside of visionary distortion tweakers. Of course, I find myself frequently backing up "For Love" because it's one hell of an adorable tune, even as the aerodynamic "Superblast!" appeals to the escapist in me, as does the surreal, tappy tone splashes of "Untogether," which is modified pop in itself.

The term "shoegazing" crops up frequently around Lush by most journalists, and I have to admit a dumb fondness for it, because if you take a floaty pop song like "Tiny Smiles" from Spooky, the shoegazing could well likely be from an inverted, freefall position. In fact, much of Lush's material from Gala and Spooky are like tubular aeronautics with their dreamy mix of harnessed distortion and clean, twinkling plucks shot back in granular feedback so that Lush could sound more aquatic than others of their kind. Add to the aural nirvana the collective sigh of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson's breathy sirens, and Lush possessed the capacity to sweep and swoon beyond the majority of their peers. Credit where it's due; the stark vibrancy alone of "Sweetness and Light," "De-Luxe" and "Scarlet" from the Gala collection are all landmark tracks of the alternative rock explosion.

Sure, "shoegazing" might apply more to the mopish and diaffected reverb of The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Bauhaus, but it's frighteningly easy to fall into the splendor of Lush and feel nothing but the tremendous vacuum they suck you into. Shoegazing might be considered the initial contact, but the desire to loosen the strings and kick the dratted things off your feet in order to give yourself the illusion you're floating in the same weightless realm that Spooky establishes upon greeting with the anticipatory hello "Stray" is the bigger emotion staked here. In such a footloose surrender, Lush hoists you by the shoulders with the ambitious mini epic "Nothing Natural," and you're instantly spellbound, as Miki Berenyi flirts her lyrics "don't you know you're beautiful" into your ear while her shotgun partner Emma Anderson provides gasping high-end vocal fills. You'll feel as beautiful as Berenyi wants to impart (she's no slouch herself, assuredly, as I'll admit she was one of my many fleeting musician crushes over the years) with each lofty bar of the song.

Produced by none other than Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie, who took his share of flack as much as praise for Spooky, by all means is his influence felt as he is perhaps the only one of Lush's producers to recognize their potential for wrapping Sonic Youth's quick-wristed string bullying into snug, composite rock songs with their heads stuck firmly in the clouds. "Take," "Monochrome," "Ocean" and especially the pumping throb of "Laura" exemplify Lush's sometimes powerful propensity to remove you from your head space.

While many Lush fans swear by the band's next two outings Split and Lovelife, the transition from psychedelic starlets to international jet setters is worth pointing out, in particular the way Lush fuses some mod into their punkish Lovelife album. Granted, the first two songs, "Ladykillers" and "Heavenly Nobodies" rock seriously hard, even if they're inherently aspirant to be The Pixies or The Breeders. Of course, this metamorphosis into a stripped-down alt band that bore hints of the sonic grandeur of Gala and Spooky paid off for Lush, particularly from the attitude-laced "Ladykillers." Sadly, drummer Chris Acland took his life shortly after Lovelife struck the well in 1996 and the band never recovered.

While Split is an interesting listen that yields some of Lush's best writing, for my tastes, Gala and especially Spooky are my fuzz du jour. Save for playing these albums on the road, I do believe I've listened to Lush mostly barefooted as I am this very second, shoes be damned...

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