BUSH Return to Form With The Kingdom
WIth their best album since 2001’s Golden State, Gavin Rossdale and BUSH return to form with their leanest, meanest, and heaviest album in almost 20 years.
Back in the days when a rock band could release an album that could dominate radio airplay, sell 6 million units, and garner critical and commercial acclaim, BUSH released one of the biggest albums of its time. Sixteen Stone was released on December 6th, 1994 and would go on to dominate the next year. Starting with “Everything Zen” and running through a total of 5 masive singles which included “Glycerine” and “Comedown,” Sixteen Stone was the type of album that if it had been released by anyone else could have been dismissed as grunge-come-lately. Gavin Rossdale made the album something more though. His existential lyrics, that eschewed the absolute darkest musings of Nirvana and company, coupled with a heavy vocal delivery put him in the same category of grunge stylistically, but with a much more accessible arena rock sound. Not to mention that Rossdale would prove himself to be a master of irony, perhaps the most important piece of Gen X cred (“Testosterone” would be the most misinterpreted song in rock since “Born In The USA”), and the alt-rock (by that point actually mainstream) world had a potential new spokesman. Rossdale wanted more though, and BUSH’s sound would evolve and change over the course of its next several albums. They would incorporate electronica (what late 90s era band didn’t?), only to return to a more stripped down sound with 2001’s Golden State. Almost 20 years and a few meandering albums later, BUSH would embark on an anniversary tour with LIVE and Our Lady Peace celebrating the release of Sixteen Stone. Hitting the road with fellow 90s peers and playing a hard hitting and powerful set night after night was the perfect muse for Rossdale, as The Kingdom is BUSH’s most compact, stripped down, heaviest, and therefore best album in 20 years.
Oh, if Rossdale and BUSH didn’t slip down that electronica rabbithole all those years ago, we might have gotten both The Kingdom and, in retrospect, Golden State much sooner. With nary a drum machine or processor in sight, BUSH lean heavily on what they do best: loud and heavy guitar, bass, and drums. While the sound is much more polished than it was on Sixteen Stone and Golden State (one can’t fault modern production values) there are few rock bands that play this hard and rely upon clean vocals as solidly as BUSH does. Detractors might hold their nose, cry “retro” and take a pass on The Kingdom, but anyone who heard “Machinehead” and felt their inner rock fan (and star) identify with “deaf, dumb, and 30” when they actually WERE under 30-an age that was casting sparks of anxiety and fear as it approached-will now understand and feel the same when they-now most likely in their 40s-hear Rossdale sing about how “the mind plays tricks on you” in “Undone.” The band’s best slow burner since “Glycerine,” “Undone” is the aftermath of the relationship-both literally and metaphorically-that Rossdale sang about in “Glycerine.” Everything is “undone in a thousand places” now in Rossdale’s post-glycerine era, much like everything is in our unsettled post-COVID-19 world right now. How innocent the world of 1995 feels when compared to the grown up horrors of 2020.
“Undone” is the only slow burner on the album though. Everywhere else BUSH sounds like it’s on a mission to regain the heavy rock sound that defined Sixteen Stone and Golden State, but the tempo is even more urgent. Of course this can be read as Rossdale’s reaction to the slipping away of time we Gen Xers are starting to feel as we push deeper into middle age, but it’s more than that. So much of the 90s, while incredibly hopeful, was a bit of a heavy fog for those of us coming of age. Now the fog has cleared in many ways and the path is clear. It feels as if Rossdale has noticed this as well. With clarity comes urgency, and songs like “Words Are Not Impediments” are bursting with honesty and clarity and the straightforward rock supports Rossdale’s artistic vision.
It’s a vision that has seen Rossdale go from singing “we are the hollow men” to “there is no life without spirit.” While both sentiments might seem a bit trite to the casual listener, they are insightful looks into the journey that one of the “best (rock) minds of my generation” has made from 1995 to 2020. I thank Rossdale and BUSH for inviting us along with them, as well as keeping our urgent and hopeful journey alive.