Bush – The Science of Things

3 out of 5

Label: Trauma

Produced by: Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley

Bush’s third proper album, The Science of Things, was a fascinating experiment. …Though I’m sure that’s not how Gavin Rossdale would have wanted it viewed, and neither did Bush’s label at the time, Trauma, who were looking for another big ol’ hit. But that was the rub: Rossdale had been dodging the “Nirvana knock-off” grunge-bandwagoner criticism since the first Sixteen Stone singles dropped, and then got plenty of love / hate for becoming a cutesy poster boy with Glycerine. He was angsty, consarnit, and making art, and sought to prove it… by pairing with a Nirvana producer on Razorblade Suitcase. (But also by making one of the best grunge rock albums of all time.)

It paid off then, with further hits, and further able to juggle rocking hard and being pretty.

Reteaming with Sixteen Stone producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley and coming in as a co-producer, post an attempt to branch out in their genre a bit with remix disc Deconstructed (which the kids liked, but also came across to me as something of a release stop-gap), The Science of Things feels even more like Rossdale trying to prove himself but stay within hitmaker territory, copping to dashes of electronic flourishes on the album – one might say because electronica had gained a larger foothold in the mainstream at that point – and keeping in some acoustic lovey tracks, but also pushing some really angular and experimental compositional elements.

…And it kinda failed in its experiment, in the sense that sales and reviews were fairly naff compared to what came before, and could be said to have thrown a wrench into trying to push the brand too far away from grunge. At the same time, though, I think it paid off: followup Golden State paired the group with mega producer Dave Sardy for an awesome back to basics style disc, and future albums would come with a sense of confidence and resolve in the songwriting. Bush tested the waters on doing something different and ran back ashore, but then ended up finding their own pool – pretty similar to the previous one, but their own pool nonetheless – in which to swim.

How this plays out on the album itself is, similarly, mixed: there are some amazing singles, particularly opener Warm Machine, and some tracks that are a great marriage of Sixteen Stone’s sound with the more raucous Razorblade style, such as English Fire and a personal favorite, The Disease of the Dancing Cats. But the electronic stuff absolutely feels tacked on the majority of the time, and tends to water down big moments that would’ve hit harder with just guitar, bass, and drums – Jesus Online being a good example of that, with a really solid bass hook and Gavin’s great tendency toward delaying a song’s big moments being subject to bleeps and bloops that don’t add much. However, these additions seemed to be a pathway to trying other things in general: 40 Miles from the Sun’s layering is really impressive; it doesn’t just feel like the phoned in acoustic track, but rather a song that deserves to be on the disc. And perhaps to counter the watering down, Langer / Winstanley capture the guitars really well – the riffs are very angular and angry sounding, though again, that makes me wish we could’ve heard this stuff without some of the extras.

Due to there being less songs that are perfect front-to-back – rather being a collection of great moments – The Science of Things does tend to wear out its welcome by album’s end, and so doesn’t hit my playlist often. But when it does, I’m reminded that there was a lot of good stuff here, and the core songwriting throughout is really strong.*

*Excepting Rossdale’s perpetually somewhat silly lyrics, which kind of hit their peak “random concepts mashed together”ness here. But I feel like we had to accept that as part of the package from day one. He sings with gusto, so I generally give it a pass.