Scrunged: Bush’s Sixteen Stone
Scrunge (second-rate rip-off grunge) is a largely forgotten genre, and every few weeks I’m going to examine a scrunge act or two and see if they deserve a second chance. Today’s band: Bush
When I was 15, Bush were on tour with No Doubt and the Goo Goo Dolls. My school seemed to be split into three camps: people who were going to that show; people who desperately wanted to go to that show; and people who were livid and angry that such a show existed and that anyone would possibly find any of those bands worthwhile in the least.
All of these facts blow my mind, because Bush is a band that I cannot imagine anyone having any strong feelings about in any way whatsoever.
But a lot of people liked Bush, loved them even. They were no doubt (no pun intended) the biggest of the scrunge acts. Their debut album Sixteen Stone sold over 6 million copies in the US alone and spawned five hit singles, most of which remain radio staples to this day.
And at the time, it seemed that just as many people couldn’t freaking stand them. Bush was the first band I remember being called a “rip off’ of Nirvana, and the rock/indie/stoner kids at my school were quick to deride and dismiss them in a moment’s notice. If you liked Bush, you were a poser. Bush wasn’t a “real” rock band, they were a grunge-lite, glossed over bullshit for preppies and girls who found Gavin Rossdale hot.
I think that last bit had more to do with the negative reaction than most people want to admit. High school girls liked Bush because the lead singer was cute, and this pissed off high school boys. It really pissed off high school boys who found grunge as a respite for such things. Remember, grunge started as a response to polished glam rock performed by pretty boys who women wanted to sleep with. The image wasn’t supposed to matter. It was supposed to be about the music, man. And here was some group of Brits fronted by a cute guy and ruining all of that.
Hating Bush because Gavin Rossdale is a pretty man that women want to touch is stupid. Because, like I said before, having any strong emotions at all over Bush is pretty stupid. I vividly recall not liking Bush when they were at the peak of their popularity, but I also recall listening to their songs and watching their videos hundreds of times. Ask me right now and I could probably recite more than half the lyrics to “Glycerine,” “Comedown” and “Machinehead.” They’re part of my subconscious just as much as songs I love. All because I couldn’t be bothered to turn the radio to another station when their song came on. Or because I sat through their videos on MTV because I wanted to see what was coming next. I don’t hate Bush. I don’t like them. I am extremely disinterested in them in a remarkably passive way.
According to Wikipedia, Gavin Rossdale and guitarist Nigel Pulsford (Jesus Christ those are some British-ass British names) became friends over a mutual appreciation for the Pixies. But I wouldn’t be surprised if both didn’t discover the Pixies until Nirvana started namedropping them in interviews. Not a drop of the Pixies is present in Bush’s music, save for a smudge of the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic, and even that’s being generous. At best, Bush has always been a copy of a copy, and a poor copy at that. But they’re a poor copy with a remarkably good looking lead singer and incredibly tight production. No two greater shortcuts to fame have ever been used and abused in the annals of music history as those.
Those shortcuts come at a price though. When a band garners a fanbase because of their sound or lyrical content, their fans connect with them on a deep level. a level that will always ensure that at least some of them will always stick around through thick and thin. When your fans likes you because you’re pretty and sound nice, your days in the spotlight are numbered, especially when prettier, even more polished bands are just around the corner.
Sixteen Stone came out in 1994, like almost every other album I’ve focused on for this series. At that time, Bush was about as pop as alt-rock was willing to go, and Gavin Rossdale was the most attractive man in a line-up of dudes who looked like dudes you bought weed from and hadn’t showered in weeks. Not exactly strict competition. Bush’s second album, Razorblade Suitcase came out in 1996, and a lot can change in just two short years. In ’94 there was still some edge to the Modern Rock charts, with Nirvana, The Offspring and “Zombie” by The Cranberries all hitting number one. By ’96 things had started to change, Dishwalla, 311, Sublime – things were mellowing out – and getting prettier. In ’97 we saw the mainstream arrival of Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray, The Wallflowers and other acts who had successfully shone all the rough patches of the early-90s alt-rock scene into a radio-friendly shine. And bands like Bush, who straddled the line between edgy and a band your mom would like, found themselves irrelevant.
While Sixteen Stone garnered several hit singles, Razorblade Suitcase snagged just one, “Swallowed” and the album sold half the copies as its predecessor. The group followed it up with Deconstructed, a remix album (because 90s electronica), which probably wasn’t the best way to counter falling momentum. 1999’s The Science Of Things did score one hit with “The Chemicals Between Us” (one of their better tunes in my opinion) but that was the last hurrah for the group. They kept trudging along, releasing Golden State in 2001, which scored zero hits, and they called it quits in the early 2000s. Had Bush stuck around they probably would have – wait, what?
They got back together?
Yes, because why the fuck not, Bush reformed in 2010 (minus some original members) and have since released two more albums; The Sea Of Memories in 2011 and Man On The Run in 2014, the former of which scored a number one rock single with “The Sound of Winter.”
Live, Gin Blossoms, The Lemonheads, Veruca Salt, The Toadies, Soul Asylum, eels, Butthole Surfers, I could rattle off countless forgotten bands from the early-90s who I think deserve to score a comeback single before Bush. Shit, I’d be willing to give Collective Soul, Fuel or even The Presidents Of The United States Of America a second chance at pop stardom before Bush. Who in 2011 found out about a new Bush song and thought, “Yay! I’ll buy that!”? Although I guess the preppy girl who liked Bush in high school is probably a soccer mom by now – so maybe nostalgia has something to do with it.
In 2015, of all the bands I’ve written about in Scrunged, Bush is probably the most relevant. And that’s just sad.
Okay. Now I hate Bush.