DOA’s Guide to the Recordings of…Lush

This second installment of DOA’s Guide to the Recordings Of… features the band Lush. As previously mentioned in the intro of the inaugural article, this is only one fan’s perspective on the output of an underappreciated band. My viewpoint is also that of an avid and long-time fan in the U.S. about a British band from its inception to its untimely demise.

Lush was a shoegazer/dream-pop/guitar-pop band that formed in 1988 in London, England and disbanded in 1996. Lush’s line-up consisted of Miki Berenyi (lead vocalist, guitarist, songwriter), Emma Anderson (background vocalist, guitarist, songwriter), Chris Acland (drummer), Steve Rippon (bass guitarist), and later, Phil King (bass guitarist), when Steve left the band in 1991. Ivo, then head of the record label 4AD, signed Lush in 1989, and the British music press quickly tagged the band with the “shoegazer” label due to their dreamy, chiming, guitar-driven sound. At the time, a co-headlining tour with the band Ride did nothing to dispel that notion. Lush released three studio albums, one compilation album, one retrospective album, and a slew of EPs, and over the course of their career, their sound generally evolved from the shoegazer and dream-pop style to the guitar-pop and power-pop genre. Tragically, in October 1996, drummer Chris Acland committed suicide, and the remaining members felt that they could not continue on as a band. Miki disappeared from the music scene for over ten years, but has recently reappeared, granting a couple of interviews and contributing vocals to three tracks on the up-coming Seinking Ships album. Emma formed the band Sing-Sing with vocalist Lisa O’Neil and they were active for over a decade, but recently called it a day. Phil plays bass guitar in various bands, including the Jesus And Mary Chain.

Gala [4AD/Reprise; 1990]
Not exactly a “proper” debut studio album, Gala was the U.S.-release compilation album of Lush’s three U.K. EPs, Scar (1989), Mad Love (1990), and Sweetness And Light (1990), and also included an alternate version of their song “Scarlet” and a breezy cover of ABBA’s song “Hey Hey Helen”. A balance is struck between the shorter, punkier numbers that are sharp and bracing, filled with shifting tempo changes and Miki’s bitter vocal delivery that bristles with defiance, and the more luminous, ethereal, but melancholy musings, complete with beguiling harmonizing between Miki and Emma. Standout tracks include “Sweetness And Light” which encompasses both the rough and the smooth, with its fragile, sky-high harmonies, mid-song mad-dash guitar collision, and vast expanse of melodic sound, the brisk, but soaring “Breeze”, the abrasive guitar-rock of “Leaves Me Cold” and “Baby Talk”, and “De-Luxe”, a rush of sweet vocals, choppy drums, and fiery guitar work that scintillatingly merges start-stop guitar and drum dynamics with vibrant, short-phrase vocal delivery.
Spooky [4AD/Reprise; 1992]
Lush’s debut studio album suffers from the (over)production of Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, and the British music press was quick to criticize its gauzy, twinkling, sonic gift-wrap, with Miki and Emma’s vocals (and lyrics) half-buried in the mix. There’s no denying the underlying song structures and vocal harmonies, however, and there is much to admire on the album, from the heightened, sustained instrumental and vocal notes of opener “Stray” to the seamlessly flowing allure of “Nothing Natural”, where Miki and Emma’s vocals harmonize and intertwine, riding high on a surging bass line, to the ebb and flow pull of “Ocean” to the compactly crafted “For Love”, with its stratospheric, yet tinged with regret, vocal acrobatics and chiming guitars, to the delightful exhilaration of aero-guitar power and propulsive drums on the aptly-named “Superblast!”.

 

Split [4AD/Reprise; 1994]
This album may not have done that well in sales or in the charts, but it was a marked progression from <i>Spooky</i>, with more developed songwriting and song structures, with similarly constructed opening and closing numbers that bookend a range of textures and moods, from the first few fast-paced numbers to a handful of slow-burners (some which shimmer and sizzle, like the layered, siren-like vocal pull of “Undertow”, and some that glimmer then fizzle), one taut, tense experimentation titled “The Invisible Man”, a slightly re-worked version, replete with spine-tingling guitar riff, of their shoegazer epic “Starlust” (found in more wavering form on the For Love EP, along with a cover of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner”), and the stately downer epic “Desire Lines”. The band made inroads toward mainstream success with its power-pop number “Hypocrite”, a punchy, tightly-structured, guitar-driven whirlwind with Miki bluntly exclaiming her lyrics, a far cry from the sweet, delicate, lofty vocals found on Lush’s debut album.

Lovelife [4AD/Reprise; 1996]
The band’s breakthrough album proved to be their last, and it took the band in a different direction musically. Several songs adhered to a stripped-down, guitar-pop format, heavy on verse, chorus, verse structure, and featured Miki singing in a straightforward and lower register with a pronounced British accent. Certain songs were deemed accessible by the music mainstream and Lush attained more recognition and airplay than at any time in their career, with the spiky attitude of “Ladykillers” and the sweepingly carefree “Single Girl” finding success on the charts in the U.K.. Lovelife has been categorized as a “Brit-pop” album, and well, yes, Lush is a British band that plays guitar-pop songs, but this genre tag denies the variety of tunes to be found here, from the haughtily viperous, sing-talking exchange between Miki and guest vocalist Jarvis Cocker on the jaunty duet “Ciao!”, to the rousing guitar-rock of “Heavenly Nobodies” and “Runaway”, the sugary silliness of “500 (Shake Baby Shake)” (if you didn’t know the lyrics were about mooning over the Fiat 500 car, it would all be a bit risqué), and a slightly reworked version of their older song “The Childcatcher”.

Ciao! Best Of Lush [4AD; 2001]
A retrospective album released by 4AD, this serves as an introduction to Lush, with an almost equal sampling from all four main albums, with four songs representing each album, with the exception of five songs from Split, and the unusual, but welcome inclusion of the slowly-unfolding “Love At First Sight”, a subdued, but compelling (with attenuated instrumentation and vocals) cover of a song by The Gist, which originally appeared on the Hypocrite EP. The album kicks off with “Ladykillers”, “Single Girl”, and “Ciao!” in quick succession, showcasing the band’s more recent power-pop songs, then chronologically rewinds the timeline to their start, including gems like “Hyprocrite”, “Desire Lines”, “Nothing Natural”, “For Love”, “De-Luxe”, and “Sweetness And Light” .