Bush – The Sea Of Memories (2011)

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Music

Yes, ‘that’ Bush. While nobody was really caring the last ten years or so, Gavin Rossdale has spent his time being married to Gwen Stefani, having babies and pretty much just being one of the sexiest men alive. A far cry from the glory days of the 90s when his group was considered one of the best alternative rock bands around.

Yet here they are – crawling out of their hole a decade later – with a new album, a re-crafted lineup, and a new, more modern-rock sound. The Sea Of Memories marks the band’s fifth release (is that all?), and all but throws away the group’s identifiable post-grunge sound from days gone by.

When a band pretty much calls it quits, then revives itself after a long absence, one can’t help but wonder the motivation. Is it time to cash in on past successes by dangling the carrot in front of old fans? Are they earnestly intent on recapturing the momentum they once had? Are they bored with their ‘everyday’ lifestyles as fathers and husbands?

Whatever the reason, Bush is back. While I’m a bit skeptic to the sudden re-emergence, I felt it necessary to critique this album. Not so much because I was familiar with the band in the 90s, but more so to ‘police’ the current effort in an attempt to ascertain the intent.

Not surprisingly, Bush today doesn’t sound much like Bush circa 1996. That transformation began a long time ago, as the band shifted from post-grunge to alternative rock and even adapted an electronic-type of sound towards the turn of the century. The results varied, and while many fans slowly departed the fan base, there were still plenty that stuck with Rossdale and the band as their buzz quietly faded out.

The sound today can be described as a more steady return to true alternative rock – but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. The band always hovered around ‘mainstream,’ but used to have an eclecticism to them that made them stand out from the crowd. At very worst, the band was exceptionally precise in their delivery early in their career, but even that seems to no longer be a focal point. I blame a lot of the latter to the absence of former guitarist Nigel Pulsford, who, in my opinion, added a crucial balance to Rossdale’s soaring vocals with crisp, clean, intricate guitar work. With that gone, the soundtrack has become far more sloppy and forgettable.

But you still get Rossdale’s vocals, which are worth the price of admission most of the time. He stands just as unique and powerful as ever here, and carries this album from start to finish. And he had to.

If not for his efforts here, this album would be a complete disaster. It’s so high on the “vanilla” scale, that if you took the vocals out and just listened to the music you would think it was another generic CD from Fuel or Trapt. But you get the vocals, and that’s enough in itself to elevate it above a lot of other ‘modern rock’ acts going these days.

If you, like me, were looking for something a bit more promising, skip the first seven tracks. It’s with the eighth track that the album finally starts to show its teeth. “She’s A Stallion” breaks the monotony of the disc with a Pixies-meets-Collective-Soul romp that energizes a tired effort into something that really starts to kick up some dirt. The dust cloud moves forward with “I Believe In You” which showcases a welcome return to their familiar post-grunge sound, and is presented with very high energy and grit.

“Stand Up” dials everything back a bit to a mid-tempo, alt-rock process – but now it feels sincere. The structure is far better here, as were the lyrics. I really wish the first of the album had carried this ‘feel,’ but at least I get the necessary assurance that Bush has hope of being relevant once again.

A bit of the over-blandness returns for “The Heart Of The Matter,” a relatively uninspired near-ballad. Even Rossdale seems disinterested in this song, and the instrumentation follows suit with a lazy, disorganized effort.

The closing track, “Be Still My Love” is a haunting track that seems to be drinking from the same glass that the band’s hit “Glycerine” was poured into. The thing is, it somehow comes across poetic and fresh, and finds a way to work. Fans of ‘old’ Bush will love the tempo and atmosphere presented here, and the darker theme adds a nice finishing touch.

So how do we decipher the effort in its entirety? Should we assume that the band used the first half of the record to clear the cobwebs created over the last ten years, or do we face the fact that this album was probably the band’s worst entry into their catalog, where the ‘misses’ far outweighed the ‘hits’?

For me, there was enough hope in the back end of the record to keep me interested – albeit waning – in Bush looking ahead. I think there was enough here to keep their longtime fanbase pleased (although I have read some grumblings contrary to the fact), but not nearly enough to create a revival ‘buzz’ that I’m sure the band was hoping for. With any luck, it will sell just enough copies for the band to pursue another album – one that they would be better served with Bush just being themselves as opposed to trying to be a part of something more modern that they really aren’t that good at…

4.75/10

Tracklist:
01. The Mirror Of The Signs
02. The Sound Of Winter
03. All My Life
04. Afterlife
05. All Nights Doctors
06. Baby Come Home
07. Red Light
08. She’s A Stallion
09. I Believe In You
10. Stand Up
11. The Heart Of The Matter
12. Be Still My Love

Buy it at Amazon

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