LP Review: Bush, ‘The Art Of Survival’ – A Great New Album From A Band I’d Almost Forgotten

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Maybe it’s just me but it seems like there has been a lot of great music that has come out over the last few weeks. Autumn is always a great time of year – leaves start turning wonderful colors, NFL football is in full swing, we can wear flannel shirts over our concert t-shirts and maybe even put on a sweater. I look great in a sweater but who doesn’t? More importantly, suddenly bands start putting out music. As the Chili Peppers once sang, “Autumn’s sweet, we call it fall.” Every time I look up a great new album has come out – from Ozzy’s Patient Number 9 to Jack White’s Entering Heaven Alive to Starcrawler’s She Said to the Cult’s sublime Under The Midnight Sun, music is coming at me fast and furious… even Billy Idol put out a great new EP, The Cage. Most of this music is stuff I was anticipating. But an amazing album came out a few Fridays ago that I certainly wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting it because I’d kind of lost touch with this band… Bush. As I listened to this great new album, The Art of Survival, I realized I’d been ignoring this band at my own peril. I was absolutely blown away by this new LP.

My relationship with Bush has always been tumultuous. It’s like this woman I dated in the late 90s during Bush’s heyday… before the Rock Chick, of course. We’d fight and then inevitably break up and go our separate ways and then she’d show up at my door at 3 a.m. wearing only high heels and a trench coat. It’s hard to think rationally during an episode like that, but I’m getting off topic here. I’ve admitted in previous posts, when a wave of some new musical movement comes, it tends to overwhelm me. When the Hair Bands took over the world (and especially MTV) in the 80s, they all sounded alike to me. I was still assimilating all the great music of the 60s and 70s, educating myself about Cream and the Allman Brothers or early Dylan, just trying to catch up. I mostly ignored the hair bands. I was slow to get on the Guns N Roses bandwagon because I dismissed them as just “another hair band” after seeing the video for “Welcome to the Jungle.” Then I heard “Paradise City” and realized how wrong I’d been. It wasn’t until this millennium that I got deep into Motley Crue.

Grunge was no exception to my guarded approach to assimilating the latest and greatest music. Suddenly it was everywhere. Thanks to a woman I used to know I was early getting on the Pearl Jam bandwagon. She left her copy of their debut CD Ten at my house and it went into high rotation until she showed up, stormed in and took it back. Soundgarden was another band I really dug but then I used to describe them as the new Black Sabbath. They were more metal than grunge to my ears and I like metal. Alice In Chains was probably the next band I had pegged as being “important” enough for me to invest time in. It was their EPs Sap and Jar of Flies that drew me in. I was more cautious with Nirvana, for reasons now unclear. The hype around them was just so big it was off-putting. I believe it was their Unplugged album that turned on the light bulb on them for me. Well, that and the song “Heart Shaped Box,” which is still their best tune in my opinion. In Utereo was actually the first LP of theirs that I purchased.

There were just so many grunge bands that were on the alternative rock radio station at the time. So much good music to sort through… Hole, Blind Melon, Green Day (who weren’t grunge they were proto-punk but they broke at the same time) and even Jane’s Addiction who I also don’t consider grunge. I’m only scratching the surface with that list… I’m surprised Bush was even able to pierce my consciousness. I remember really liking “Everything Zen.” It had a great line that I thought my brother could have written, had I lived in L.A., “Should I fly to Los Angeles, find my asshole brother.” “Little Things” and “Comedown” were also on the radio a lot and I liked both of those tracks. But oddly enough, it wasn’t until I heard “Machinehead” that I purchased the album. That song, “Machinehead” was on every exercise mix tape/disc I put together for about 5 years after that… That debut, Sixteen Stone was indeed a great album. The themes were very dark but since lead singer/rhythm guitarist/songwriter Gavin Rossdale was so good looking people tended to overlook his dour Cobain-esque view of the world. I would describe Sixteen Stone as one of the essential albums from the grunge period.

I didn’t jump on their second LP, Razorblade Suitcase, until I saw them in concert, which was literally by accident. I was on a disastrous vacation in Jamaica with a buddy of mine, the medical student, when we were forced to flee the resort and country early. I think I told the airline officials my grandmother died so they’d let me change my tickets. It was truly harrowing. Anyway, we flew back home 2 days early and somehow ended up at a Bush concert… there was a lot of rum involved in the whole episode… luckily no warrants were issued and international incident was avoided. But I have to say Bush killed it live and I was really glad to be at that show. They were great. I heard them do the song “Cold Contagious” and immediately bought the second album. But after that, I have to admit, they faded out of view for me. I think they tried some electronica stuff which was the rage back then… see Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore for reference. Then, in 2001 I think they broke up. I read that the guitarist didn’t want to tour any more. You’re in a world famous band, you gotta get off the couch and leave the house once in a while.

It was the Rock Chick who, in 2011, turned me onto the new version of Bush’s then current album, Sea of Memories. At that point Rossdale was the only original member. He was joined by Chris Traynor on lead guitar, Corey Britz on bass and Robin Goodridge (who has since been replaced by Nik Hughes) on drums. The critics didn’t dig it but I did. “The Sound of Winter,” a galloping rocker, was probably my favorite track on that album but “The Afterlife” was also a fine rockin’ tune. “Baby Come Home” and “She’s A Stallion” are also tunes that spring to mind. Sadly, at that point, like my usual tumultuous relationship with Bush, I lost track of them again, which is a real shame. I recently went back and listened to their previous album 2020’s The Kingdom and damn if it’s not a great little record. I had completely missed it.

As I mentioned before, I was surprised to see Bush had a new LP out a few Friday’s ago, the same date the Cult’s new LP Under The Midnight Sun came out. When a band we dig puts out a new album the Rock Chick and I tend to spend that Friday night here at the B&V labs listening to the new music. We cranked the new Cult album a few times and I mentioned in passing that Bush put out a new album and I really wanted to check it out. The Rock Chick put it on immediately… I was not prepared for how heavy these guys have gotten. They are RAWKING. The first track “Heavy Is The Ocean” exploded out of the speakers. All that existential angst that was the backbone of grunge is still present in Rossdale’s singing and songwriting. He sounds, frankly, more pissed off than worried. “This fuckery could be the death of us,” he repeats towards the beginning of “Heavy Is The Ocean” and it sums up how I feel about the world. There is a rocking urgency to these songs that demands your attention. If you’re like me and you’ve spaced these guys off, I strongly urge you to get back in.

As I said, “Heavy Is The Ocean” is one of the best songs these guys have ever done. It has this heavy quiet to loud thing that was always a great punk rock move. I do like that he’s not all dour on the track when he sings, “we crack but we don’t break.” Clearly climate change is the theme here. Nik Hughes is a bruising drummer. “Slow Me” is another intense tune that has moments of quiet beauty interspersed in it. “Slow me, I cant’ let go, it’s a cold wind that blows…” He goes on to sing, “Everybody’s right, everybody’s wrong… wars have no endings…” This stuff is torn from the headlines and yet feels very personal. “More Than Machines” is the first single and it’s another outstanding track. It’s a great track in support of women’s rights. It’s a goddamn rally cry. “Everything wrong should be right, girls, You in control, Not the government…”

“May Your Love Be Pure” pulses and throbs with anger… “Money makes the world goes round… not much rain in California… yeah we need water…” Great, great stuff. “Shark Bite” is also another track that may contend for heaviest riffage here. It’s as though Bush is stomping their foot and saying, “Pay attention.” “Human Sand” also contends for one of my favorite songs. “I believe in terrestrial angels, Believe in the power of one, I believe in life ever-changing, Believe that we are not done.” Oh, hell yes. “Kiss Me I’m Dead” is another bruising riff rocker. “Gunfight” is another in that same vein. All of these tracks rock and deserved to be cranked loud.

There are two tracks that are ballads, ala “Glycerine.” The first is “Creatures of the Fire” and it’s as you would expect from Bush and Rossdale, simply beautiful. But the album ender “1000 Years” is the most beautiful slow track these guys have ever done. It’s just gorgeous. It’s a break up tune, “You were wrong to me, You set me free, But I wish we could sleep, For a thousand years, I love you best, When there are no fears.” I can’t say enough about these slower moments on the record which are both great change of pace tunes but please don’t take that as me discounting either of them.

The two tracks that I didn’t connect with as strongly – and I still like – are “Identity,” a quick paced, meet me at the finish line rocker and “Judas Is A Riot,” a riff heavy track with the great line “I’ve got a house full of sorrow but beauty is where beauty sings.” I still like both of these tracks – full disclosure the Rock Chick did not – they’re just not as strong as the rest of the album. That said – don’t let that scare you away from this album based on those two tracks. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Bush and the Cult all week and it’s been an awesome week.

This is the best album Bush has done since Sixteen Stone. If this new, urgent lyrically, riff heavy thing is their new direction we all need to be paying more attention to Bush. This is certainly one of the best albums of the year for me and seeing as I had no idea it was coming, that says a lot. And remember…”this fuckery could be the death of us…”

Cheers!

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