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Album Review: Bush – The Sea Of Memories

Album Review: Bush – The Sea Of Memories

It’s hard to believe it’s actually been a full decade since British post-grungers Bush dropped their last album. The band’s string of 1990s singles still get regular radio play, and frontman Gavin Rossdale’s marriage to Gwen Stefani keeps him in the tabloids on a consistent basis. So, it’s not like there’s been some grand void.

Still, in terms of new music they’ve pretty much been AWOL. All we’ve gotten from Rossdale in the interim is his dull 2008 solo album Wanderlust, and one decent-but-inconsequential album from the short lived group Institute. If the other members of the group put out anything worthwhile, I didn’t hear about it, and you probably didn’t either.

Taking all this into consideration, it’s surprising just how strong Bush’s comeback album is. The Sea Of Memories is probably the best album they’ve ever made (which, considering the amount of strong singles on Sixteen Stone, is hardly an empty statement). While this album contains some of their post-grunge roots, they also step out of their comfort zone a bit. What we end up with is a mixture of crunchy guitar rock, a surprising bit of glam influences, and some Britpop stylings that will remind listeners more of Blur or Oasis than of Silverchair, Live, or any of other post-grunge bands Bush is typically lumped in with. It’s a new sound for the band, and it suits them nicely.

One remnant of Bush’s sound that remains on this album is their knack for catchy melodies. Nearly every song here has an instantly hummable chorus, with “Baby Come Home”, and “The Afterlife” being the strongest examples. Bush have been knocked for their perceived lack of originality over the years, but no one can deny their ability to write a catchy tune. That skill is in full force here.

Bush’s secret weapon on The Sea Of Memories is guitarist Chris Traynor, a former session musician who has previously worked with such groups as Helmet, Blur, and oddly enough, Katy Perry. He provides a clean, crisp, guitar tone that gives the songs a sleek sound, without taking away any of their hard rock edge. This is especially true on lead single “The Sound Of Winter,” where Traynor’s riffage puts the tune somewhere in between straight up 1990s hard rock, and old-fashioned-fun 1970s glam. When Rossdale repeats the phrase “hang on to yourself,” it’s unknown if he’s alluding to the Bowie song of the same name, but it’s certainly a possibility.

While there are plenty of rockers, the band is not afraid to go into ballad territory. 1994’s “Glycerine” was one of their biggest hits, and The Sea Of Memories has its share of worthy successors. The first is “All Night Doctors”, a lament bemoaning the desire for quick fixes to all of our modern problems. It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t have been out of place on Blur’s early albums, but is a bit surprising on a Bush record. The song ends up working quite well, as does the message. Modern life is still rubbish, no matter who happens to be pointing it out.

The second is the album’s closer, “Be Still My Love,” which may be the one true love song on the album. After hearing the cynicism of the early songs, this could be seen as the point where Rossdale realizes that he’s better looking than most 45-year-olds and he’s married to Gwen Stefani, so perhaps he should cheer up a bit. Good to know the guy has some perspective.

This is a much stronger album than most would’ve expected from a band who has been gone for so long. Bush never got credit for their strong songwriting in the 1990s, always been derided for being derivative, much in the same way Stone Temple Pilots were. Perhaps this new album will put their career in a new light. Put it this way: Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne once said Stefani’s marriage to Rossdale was the only uncool thing about her. Maybe after hearing The Sea Of Memories, he’ll take it back. —john hugar

  • rob

    Um, how was STP derivative?

    Aside from CORE all the albums are varied and not one sounds like the last.

    Gavins song writing is limited, but his guitar pplaying is raw and powerful