This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… the early EPs from Lush August 17, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
4AD. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but perhaps it’s worth recounting again. I once knew someone whose mission in life was to purchase every single, album and EP released on 4AD. I got that in terms of the aesthetic, Vaughn Oliver’s imagery and type became as much a part of the label as the dreamily esoteric output of much of its roster. But for me I was never quite as gone on a fair few outfits on the label. That said the one’s that I was gone on I loved. Ultra Vivid Scene, Colourbox, early Xymox, A.R. Kane, The Breeders, some of the Cocteau’s output and indeed Lush.
Lush were interesting for many reasons. They arrived on a similar guitar haze/rush as MBV, that post-Jesus and Mary Chain sound reworked and smoothed, but their approach was grounded in more immediate melodies which marked them out from most of their contemporaries. They were fronted by Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi, a refreshing change from most of the wall to wall male indie line up of the period – the rest of the band consisted of Chris Acland and Steve Rippon with Philip King replacing Rippon later. The vocals were often – as one track of theirs was entitled- ethereal, but they often swooped down to a more earthy register. Some of the material was produced by Robin Guthrie from Cocteau Twins – natch! But Tim Friese-Greene whose work with Talk Talk provided another key point in 1980s and early 1990s alternative music also worked with them.
They could be regarded as twee, but… there was a strength to their approach, a sort of consideration of sexuality that was feminist inflected, though some have argued that it was more ‘female’ than feminist (they have stated they started out writing explicitly riot grrl anthems). I’m not sure how real that distinction was in this instance, but perhaps it’s worth reflecting upon.
And for all the melodic approach they weren’t afraid to be abrasive both lyrically and musically. Early single De-luxe was had this characteristic stop start, soft loud dynamic which appeared in a parallel musical evolution in the guise of grunge, but of course was also seen in precursors such as Sonic Youth and the Pixies.
Scarlet was remarkable – perhaps the track where it all really came together, the vocals distant until the chorus, sturdy rhythm section, pinging guitar lines and a general dynamic that swept all before it. It’s my favourite of all their tracks, and still transports me back to 1989 in a way that few other songs can. Leaves Me Cold has fantastic guitars. Downer is, it’s title apart (and surely that name is the epitome of proto-shoegaze), a taut coiled number.
For me the earliest EPs are Lush, much much more so than any of their albums or their later overtly commercial phase. I’ve never been able to condemn the latter, it was an audacious move – albeit prefigured by some of their earlier output, and some of the songs are still cracking, Ladykiller perhaps most obviously for its brilliantly abrasive commentary on certain brands of masculinity set against a none-more-Britpop melody. Others I wasn’t so keen on, not least a rather turgid duet with Jarvis Cocker.
To some extent there was a sense that they never achieved their full potential as a group. That sounds odd for an outfit which lasted well in to the Britpop years (and only disbanding after Acland’s tragic suicide) and managed to gain hits throughout. And yet, and yet, I’ve been humming Scarlet all week, and these tracks…
Leaves Me Cold
Sweetness and Light
Downer (Mad Love E.P.)