All You Need is Life
by Jason Ferguson
For those expecting Lush to remain immersed in a world of sweetness and light, their new album Lovelife may come as a bit of a shock. With its spiked heels dug deep into a much more straightforward sound, Lovelife is stripped of superfluous "prettiness" and "sounds."
Thus, the third full-length recording by the quartet-founders/singers/guitarists/songwriters Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, bassist Phil King and drummer Chris Acland--shows them making substantial progress, adding elements as varied as the horn section that shows up on "Olympia," to a visit from Michael Jackson's biggest fan, Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker, dueting with Miki on "Ciao!"
However, with the recent success of such Britpop groups as Blur and Oasis--and the impending success of Pulp--the sound of Lovelife may seem to some as more a case of shrewd market analysis than a legitimate statement of musical growth.
"Fuck 'em them," snarls Berenyi at the accusation. "We are really not a very commercially minded band, and it's not like we ever sat down and said, 'We've really got to write a hit.' It's certainly not a contrived album, and I think it's a fairly natural progression from Spooky through to Split and onto this album. It's not like we came out with two Spookys and suddenly came out with this album; there wasn't this huge turn-around in the way we write songs or records. It's just a progression."
Unfortunately, Split went largely unheard, both in America and in England. Having viewed the essentially unfinished Spooky as an abortive, but noble, first effort ("Robin [Guthrie, producer] just sort of got tired of doing it, so we stopped when he stopped," says Berenyi with a half-hearted laugh), the band nonetheless rode onto a Lollapalooza gig, boxloads of record sales, and an adoring clutch of press accolades. Feeling they could use this momentum to make the album they sought to make the first time around, they recorded Split, a record much closer to the live sound Lush had developed over three years of touring. Satisfied with the album, they were shocked at the negative reaction it got. Coupling bad press attention with an apathetic manager ("He would come over here and spend a week in L.A. out of his mind, getting pissed with Elastica or something, never even dealing with the label, and then come back and tell us that we were on the verge of being dropped because nobody at the label liked us," grumbles Berenyi, "when it was him they didn't like.") Split fared none too well, leaving many with the impression that the band was still toiling in the "la-la-la" realm of angelic vocals and phased guitars that had become rather tiring by that point.
"Which is really unfortunate," says Anderson. "It's really odd, because a lot of people think we started off like we did on Spooky, when a lot of the sounds on this record--that straightforward pop sound--is what we were doing very early on, like on Scar. We're certainly not trying anything drastically new.
"But people think we are and there have been interviews where they've suggested that maybe we're attempting to jump on some sort of Britpop bandwagon or something. But we've always written pop songs, and it's not like our last record was all these soundscapes with floaty vocals and whatever and now we're putting out an album like Blur's."
Defensive as she may sound, Anderson does have a point in that Lush have been writing pop songs of similar texture since they first began playing together. However, the directness of those songs is much more readily apparent on Lovelife, probably due in part to the production by the band's live soundman, Pete Bartlett, who enthusiastically captured the power of Lush's largely effect-less live performance with Berenyi and Anderson's picture-perfect harmonies intact. It's an uneasy approach--filled with propulsive hooks and crystalline vocals--that certainly won't appeal to folks looking for a little womb-rock, but live is where the band seems to feel most comfortable. The result: Lovelife is their most natural-sounding record to date.
Logically, armed with an album's worth of such stage-ready material, Lush take to the road starting in April for an American 4AD touring campaign dubbed "Shaving the Pavement" that features the desolate swoon of Mojave 3, and the somewhat incongruous metallic rock of Scheer.
"I'm looking forward to it, actually," says Anderson, addressing the potential three-band style clash. "I don't think [Scheer] is really heavy metal. They're definitely heavy rock, but I think the vocals and the way they write their songs really distinguishes them."
"Plus," offers Berenyi, "it's not like we've never played with heavy-metal bands before. After all we have played with Dreamgrinder!"
Sweetness and light, indeed.