Review Summary: A mixed bag of clever rock songs and extremely boring and amateur filler tracks.
Since I was 8 years old, when I was just beginning to discover the wide musical world that surrounds me today, I have always gravitated towards grunge music or anything with the word "alternative" attached to it. Why? Even I don't know some of the time. Sometimes it's nostalgia (Superunknown, the first record I ever bought with my own money) or sometimes I'll be listening to satellite radio on my way to work, and I'll hear a song that I instantly remember from my early childhood when grunge was at its peak of popularity. This is the exact string of events that led me back to Bush, one of the first popular post-grunge bands that has always been of divided reception amongst the most avid fans of the genre. Some say their distorted-to-hell riffs and raspy yet clean and smooth vocals are the perfect combination for a fantastic rock band, while others argue that Bush cannot write a lyric to save their life, they're basically British Nirvana, and that their inaudible bass lines and tired, derivative drumbeats comprise of a flavorless rhythm section. Needless to say, I'm somewhere on the fence. Bush definitely falls into the "guilty pleasure" category for me. I know there are better bands out there; even sometimes when I'm in the middle of my favorite tune, there's a thought in the back of my mind saying "Why are you wasting your time? Go listen to Screaming Trees! Or better yet, just get rid of this album it's complete crap!" But somehow Bush makes it work on Sixteen Stone, creating an easily enjoyable, but not very deep record.
If you listen to the first 12 minutes of the album, you'll probably wonder what the hell my tangent was about, as the first 3 songs are easily the best. Opener "Everything Zen" was the lead single from the album, but much like SP's "Cherub Rock" the song did not receive attention until long after other singles had been released, which I find baffling. "Everything Zen" is everything a hard rock tune should be: pounding percussion, a fantastic head banging riff, a quiet-loud dynamic between the verses and choruses and a vocal performance that is simply fantastic. Gavin Rossdale is far past his prime but on Everything Zen he is everything a rock vocalist should be rolled into one 4-minute burst of energy. However, despite the strength of this track, you begin to see what the detractors of the band are talking about. The lyrics are certainly ridiculous, if not just plain terrible ("rain dogs howl for the century, a million dollars a steak……..there's no sex in your violence") and the bass is only audible during the verses, and it's not even doing anything interesting. The drumming is effective but bland, and even when the band turns the volume up drummer Robin Goodridge still seems to not give a sh*t, firing away at the crash cymbal but otherwise not doing anything to really pack that extra punch.
The next two tracks "Swim" and "Bomb" follow a similar path: "Swim" is very fun musically, featuring a nice, rolling bass line and some really cool timing experiments, as well as an ending that is as intense as the album will get, with Rossdale just upping the octaves and letting out the howls until his vocal chords can't take it anymore and the song comes to an abrupt end. "Bomb" shows Bush's more restrained side, featuring a very quiet verse with some nice finesse drumming and Gavin very quietly mumbling into the microphone. Don't be fooled though, the chorus is just as heavy and intense as the last two tracks, although it's very repetitive and eventually it loses its touch. "Bomb" is also another example of something Bush is good at: very strong endings to their songs. The final 45 seconds of "Bomb" is pretty much the only part of the album that has an emotional effect on me, with some really cool reverb effects being utilized on Gavin's voice with the layered guitars crunching along but showing some intense yet melodic prowess before the song whispers to a quiet close. However, both "Swim" and "Bomb" carry the same glaring cons as the rest of the album, with lyrics that are simply TRYING to be abstract and weird, rather than letting the song flow naturally, and Rossdale having to carry the song to its end, as "Swim" overstays its welcome. "Bomb" is an odd choice but it's my favorite track on the album, because it actually knows when to end.
After such a strong opening, it's sad to see an album just crash and burn, but for the most part this is what Sixteen Stone does. The singles carry the album to its close, although even some of those are not very strong. "Little Things" simply repeats itself over and over for 4 minutes, doing nothing original or impressive, and it's easy to see that the song was built simply for the radio and not for the artists themselves. The only track that didn't get radio airplay that is even worth mentioning is "Body", a six-minute epic featuring a floating guitar hook, a fantastic chorus that will stick with you from first listen, and a lush, beautiful string arrangement. "Comedown" is going just fine until about four minutes in when the band simply decides to repeat the first verse as if they've run out of ideas. The song would undeniably be a highlight if it didn't go on for too long but it just eventually gets boring and becomes a chore to listen to.
The album never recovers from these inconsistencies: horrible stream-of-consciousness bullish*t lyrics ruin "Testosterone" and not only that, it has one of the most boring instrumental backings I've ever heard: the whole song seems to highlight the drumbeat, but it's so skeletal and unoriginal that it doesn't deserve the spotlight. The album is essentially the Gavin Rossdale show, and while each song starts with an awesome distorted riff, that soon doesn't matter because once the vocals come in the whole band's existence is forgotten. "Glycerine" is the saving grace of the album's second half, a heartfelt ballad that actually has some well-written lyrics (not great, just that they actually took the time to write good lyrics astounds me). Featuring just a basic guitar riff, a fantastic cello part, and (surprise) Rossdale's vocals once again dominating the song, "Glycerine" is the perfect ballad. It's no surprise that this is the song that catapulted the band to mainstream attention: it's easily one of the best they wrote. The ending of the song is especially interesting, with the song's structure essentially collapsing in on itself as the cellos suddenly free-fall a couple of octaves and play one of the most haunting melodies I've ever heard. A fantastic tune.
The album goes out with a whisper, with the music not even carrying any substance, just going in through one ear and out the other. "Alien" simply drags by, as the band doesn't even seem to care what they're doing, almost as if they're being forced to play the song and they really just want to go home and forget about music as a whole. The hidden track is also barely worth mentioning, as once again the band lacks any substance whatsoever, which is truly a travesty because Rossdale, who normally would get them out of ditches like that only repeats one line throughout the whole song. Sixteen Stone is simply put half grunge masterpiece and half boring filler-fest. I would recommend listening to all the songs in the recommended tracks but nothing more, as it will not interest you at all.
Recommended Tracks (Asterisk signifies best song on album):