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Record Review: Bush’s The Sea of Memories

By / Posted on 26 September 2011

Bush - The Sea of MemoriesThe 1990s.

Gavin Rossdale was one of the biggest stars in the world. As frontman of the rock band Bush, Rossdale enjoyed a rare form of success that was both commercial and critical, self-satisfying and celebrated. Even as the band’s popularity waned by their fourth album, 2001′s Golden State, Bush was still scoring hit records, and Gavin was enjoying lucrative side-gigs in modeling and acting, as well as a tabloid marriage with Gwen Stefani, whom he met when her band No Doubt was opening for Bush (yes, No Doubt was the opening act, a reminder for how big Bush once were). Guitarist and co-founder Nigel Pulsford stepped aside during the Golden State tour and Bush were on hiatus. For the best, as no one would want to support a band that shared their name with an incredibly unpopular standing President.

Today.

George W. is no longer in office, and the world is once again safe for other people and things to go by the name “Bush” without ridicule. Rossdale has reformed the band, with original drummer Robin Goodridge. Chris Traynor is on guitar – he worked with Gavin on his post-Bush solo material. Much like Billy Corgan’s insistence that his new band is called Smashing Pumpkins rather than Zwan 2, this Bush seems poised specifically to play off of a nostalgic fondness for the band that was rather than excitement or potential regarding the band that is.

The Sea of Memories is a completely bland and forgettable album. Gavin’s voice is the same as ever, but his lyrics are trite and and uninspired, like first passes at writing a book of idioms that nobody thought to commit to speech before because they didn’t actually mean anything.

Opener “The Mirror of the Signs” has the lead guitars a bit too high up in the mix, as a welcoming announcement that no, this is not the same guitarist, it sounds different, there is no subtlety, get used to it. “She’s a Stallion” features the sort of murky nü-metal percussion and ambiance that suggests that they too had listened to A Perfect Circle and Linkin Park over the past decade, so hey, let’s do some of that because people seem to like it. The piano, fuzz guitar, and distant strings of “All Night Doctors” proclaim that yes, we remember that this band once created songs like “Comedown,” “Letting the Cables Sleep,” and “Straight No Chaser,” just like we remember most 80′s hair-metal bands had bigger hits with acoustic love ballads than rockers, so let’s try that too. Even the catchier hooks of “Baby Come Home” and “The Afterlife” are banal throwbacks to past Bush songs like “Spacetravel” and “Headful of Ghosts,” which themselves were lesser songs and b-sides that precious few Bush fans could even recite the chorus lyrics of.

In an interview prior to Bush’s reformation last year, founding guitarist Nigel Pulsford was quoted as saying that Bush, in their prime, were an “edgy, searching band trying to push ourselves in a more left of centre position,” and that an album without him would stray from the sound and style the band had become synonymous with. Pulsford, of course, was right on all counts. The Bush of yore was based on the shared passions of of Rossdale and Pulsford, a relationship not unlike that of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards or Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. Each of those artists are entitled to do solo work, and sometimes that work can be fantastic, but the very idea of any of them recording under the name of their band without each other feels false, shallow, and some hybrid of disappointing and insulting. While the Bush of the 1990s was a band constantly striving to push beyond the boundaries of conventional rock music, the Bush of The Sea of Memories is a band trying to sound like Bush. The songs collected here could be any post-90s rock band with Gavin Rossdale guesting on vocals. The entire experience is not unpleasant, but it is uneventful, uninteresting, and ultimately unmemorable.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.