Review Summary: If you don't like the president, the beer, or the plant, you should at least be able to enjoy the band.
As the husband of one of music’s most annoying punk rocker-turned-pop stars, it’s hard to imagine Gavin Rossdale as having anything but a horrendous taste in music. Not so. There was a time long ago in the decade of grease and grunge that the lead singer of Bush could rock out with or without his [expletive] out. Listening to his band’s debut album, Sixteen Stone, may help expel the chanting/spell-a-long of “B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” just long enough to forgive Gavin’s marital status. Now, love life aside, let’s continue…
As most people should know, Bush came along during the flannel explosion known as the grunge movement with the likes of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and of course, Nirvana. Unlike them, though, these guys were British. So they had that going for them. But all in all, they were considered just another grunge band. Why? They didn’t texture or layer their songs, they didn’t use synthesizers, and they distorted their guitars until it sounded like Satan had chosen to speak to the people on Earth using guitar strings. What most critics of this period chose not to mention was that Bush was mostly about melody. True, they played their songs raw, but they never once left out a hook or a catchy chorus. That is what separated them from their peers.
The biggest complaint that I hear from people when defending this band is that “their lyrics are ridiculous and don’t make any sense.” Now I’m not going to say that Bush’s lyrics aren’t a bit abstract at times, but if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find some very intelligent musings that may not form a coherent story, but do provide some strong mental images.
Take a song like “Swim,” which is loaded with quips that give me a grin as well as something to ponder. It’s really tough not to admire Gavin’s cleverness when he sings “house is on fire/ we’re naked again/ maybe all we need / is water and friends.” And you really have to appreciate a song like “Testosterone” that is so full of deprecation towards his own gender that it hurts anyone with a penis to hear it. Want a standout line? Okay, how about “I’m real straight/ wanna see my pecca [pause] dilloes?” Nothing like a guy verbally abusing his own manhood for everyone with a radio to hear.
But not all of Sixteen Stone’s prowess is contained in its lyrical content. There are riffs aplenty delivered with the speed of a roadrunner and without room for excess. Right from the opening riff of “Everything Zen,” you’re lured into this subliminal harshness that holds you tight throughout most of the album. The rapid fire delivery of “Machinhead;” the consistently thunderous squeals that come from the guitars on “Monkey;” the punk rock rampancy that rushes to the climax of “X-Girlfriend;” these all have one thing in common: they rock your face off without so much as an apologetic note.
On the other hand, Bush isn’t just about kicking you in the balls all of the time. Every once in awhile, they do come in with an ice pack to take the swelling down. Much appreciated cubes like “Glycerine” and “Alien” are the perfect opposition to the racecar riffs that are delivered by the rest of the album. The former is the ballad that helped make Bush famous, due in large part to its simplicity. At no other time on this record does Gavin sound so sincere and vulnerable. It doesn’t feel like he’s talking at his listeners, it sounds like he’s talking *to* them. Meanwhile, “Alien” provides perhaps the most delicate sound of anything Bush has put on a record since. The hushed sounds of the guitars give a great backing to the near-tremble of Gavin’s voice.
And of course, I can’t leave out the classic. If there is a song that anyone without this CD will remember, it will have to be “Comedown.” It’s the true highlight of this album (which is really saying something, considering how much I love the rest of the songs). More than anything else, “Comedown” succeeds at showing a certain type of sentiment that anyone with vivid memories of a fast lifestyle can relate to: "I don't wanna come back down from this cloud/ it's taken me all this time to find out what I need." I, myself, have just started college this past week. I just listened to this song the other day, and it immediately brought back memories of this past summer. Living life to the fullest; being at what you think is the apex of your existence. That’s what this song is about.
To a certain extent, I think that’s what this whole album is about. No matter what anyone, including the band, says, this was the apex of Bush’s career. It was them before they started developing a protective skin and testing the waters of techno and industrial sounds. This album is pure rock. And for my money, I don’t think any other album of the decade can compare