The musical delights of alternative indie outfit LUSH gets a timely reassessment…
The mid to late eighties was a busy period for the UK indie scene. Although The Smiths tower over this era of history, there was also a rich seam of talent emerging from labels such as 4AD and Creation. Amongst the bands to chance their hand during this fervent period of activity were a young 4-piece outfit known as Lush.
Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi had already been friends since school and had dabbled in zine culture before making the leap to music. A proto-Lush outing known as The Baby Machines soon followed, which featured Meriel Barham on vocals, Steve Rippon on bass and Chris Acland on drums. Soon after, Barham joined Ian Masters on the spacey indie wonders that comprised Pale Saints, which left Berenyi to step up as lead vocalist, also adopting a new name for the band in the process. Despite being competent musicians, nervousness when it came to singing led Berenyi and Anderson to adopt the breathy, ethereal vocal approach that became part of Lush’s signature sound.
The band enjoyed early critical success, often being bracketed in the shoegaze genre with comparisons to the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. In fact Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins worked on some of Lush’s early material and much of the immersive qualities of 4AD’s finest definitely had an impact on later Lush material.
Chorus, a new retrospective box set, gives Lush a much overdue reappraisal by combining most of their studio recording history spread across 5 CDs. The release also throws in some bonus material in the form of radio sessions, B-sides and rare recordings.
Gala, which is essentially the EPs Scar, Mad Love and Sweetness And Light combined onto one release (originally pitched at a US and Japanese market) shows early Lush at their rawest. The dense wall of guitars sound is present and correct however and there’s some solid gems here, including the rhythmic delights of ‘Etheriel’. Lush’s exposure to producers such as the aforementioned Guthrie as well as John Fryer and Time Friese-Green certainly helped to give the band a more polished sound, although it’s nice to see the band in the process of becoming more confident over the tracks presented here.
The release of Spooky in 1992 saw Lush’s first studio album and, under the studious hand of producer Robin Guthrie, shaped and honed the band’s sound. It’s Spooky that gave us the melodic delights of ‘For Love’ with Berenyi’s airy vocals confidently dominating the shimmering guitars and percussive washes of one of the band’s finest moments.
The recording of Lush’s next album Split was fraught with difficulties as the band (which had now lost Reppion and introduced Phil King on bass) relocated with producer Mike Hedges to his French studio in the middle of winter. In an interview earlier this year, Berenyi recalls: “The madness had set in. We were isolated. Mike lost interest, our manager went Awol, our A&R man went Awol, Ivo had had enough of 4AD. It was mixed and remixed. It was fucking endless, actually.”
Despite this, Split offered an opportunity for Lush to expand their musical palette with some shrewd use of string arrangements care of Audrey Riley (who had previously worked with the likes of Virginia Astley) and Martin McGarrick (who was part of Ivo Watts-Russell’s This Mortal Coil collective). At the same time, Split shows off a much smoother sound from Lush that offers up the broody delights of ‘Kiss Chase’ and the languid guitars of ‘Desire Lines’. There’s a good portion of commercial appeal on tracks such as ‘Hypocrite’, whose more stripped-down sound points towards the more Britpop-friendly sound the band would adopt in their Lovelife years. However, there’s also a dark, introspective element to Split that confounded critics at the time, yet overall presents what is arguably Lush’s finest album.
By the time of 1996’s Lovelife, there appeared to be a desperate desire for the band to be associated with the sweeping changes of Britpop that had been led by the insufferable Oasis and the art pop of Blur (Lovelife features a duet with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker on ‘Ciao’ to really hammer the point home).
While it helped Lush’s public profile, Lovelife also appeared to be a gear change from the immersive qualities of Split. The cryptic elements of Lush’s lyrics were now being swapped out for the on-the-nose lines of songs like ‘Single Girl’ and ‘Ladykillers’ which addressed the blokey culture of London nightlife. Lovelife still offers up some enticing delights, such as the pure pop appeal of ‘500 (Shake Baby Shake)’ (essentially a love letter to the Fiat 500) and ‘Tralala’ whose sense of introspection and isolation sounds like a Split leftover.
Sadly, Lush’s upward trajectory was cut short in 1996 when drummer Chris Acland took his own life. The impact of this event resulted in the remaining members dissolving Lush as a going concern, too heartbroken to continue.
In the intervening years, we’ve seen an assortment of bands of that era being critically re-evaluated and reforming – and at any point Lush would have been a welcome addition to that list. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that the former members agreed to get back together again. An initial series of live dates is part of the plan, while the release of Chorus is another.
Chorus offers up the most definitive collection of Lush’s recording output so far (bar the omission of some non-essential tracks) and, as a compilation, it delivers on all fronts collating their studio album releases as well as additional material spread across all 5 CDs. Meanwhile, the impressive book-style packaging is a visual delight constructed under the watchful eye of long-term Lush collaborator Chris Bigg.
Lush perform at Roundhouse, London on 6th and 7th May 2016 and Manchester Academy on 30th April 2016.