Bush – Sixteen Stone

5 out of 5

Produced by: Alan Winstanley, Clive Langer

Label: Trauma

I will totally cop to rose-colored glasses on this one.  But also: maybe another pair of glasses on top of that that, like, cancels out the rose, at least a little bit, but your unconscious still recognizes the rose, amounting to a cheery disposition when you’re writing your otherwise fair review…?

I was the annoying kid playing his Sixteen Stone tape for his friends when they were listening to their Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.  I owned Nirvana also – I was definitely of the 90s MTV bred – but I caught Everything Zen on the radio a moment before the group hit it big and it was just the damned crunchiest, grungiest thing I’d ever heard – yes, moreso than the other stalwarts of the genre – and, desperate for music to call “my own” (the fledgling music asshole within me discovering those first glints of assholery), scrambled to a Musicland quick as I could (…get someone to drive me) to buy said album and listen to it a bamillion, million times.  GUYS, HOW IS THIS NOT THE CRUNCHIEST, GRUNGIEST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD went my cry, and then not too long later I was vindicated when Comedown started tearing up the dang charts.

S’truth: Glycerine sorta bummed me out, even before it was a single.  I didn’t really understand its string-laden weepiness on this otherwise distorted slab of rock, and I became even more bummed out when a shirtless Gavin was the love of many in a music video.  I was still fully on board for Razorblade Suitcase (…and The Science of Things, and beyond), but by that point the loverboy Rossdale variant had been subsumed into the group’s sound and look and it felt more palatable and in line with the albums.  Sixteen Stone remained, in my mind, this weird oddball of association: memories of my youth, of Glycerine, and of a less developed – perhaps more generic – version of Bush than I felt I’d spot on later releases.

I honestly haven’t given Sixteen Stone much a’listen since; it is, however, indelibly burned into my singalong memories as one of those first albums I listened to ad nauseam.

Color me rather surprised, then, to “rediscover” that it’s actually a damned solid album, Glycerine included.  It’s frankly a masterclass in push and pull, with tracks like Body and the epic Alien these dense and patient rockers that use the all-star Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer production to find the most effective blend of fidelity – a deep bass, surging drums – and Seattle fuzz, e.g. Gavin’s gravelly vocals and that lusciously gruff guitar.  The sequencing enforces this flow all the more, surrounding its soft bits with hard bits (Glycerine is led into by a trio of massively momentum-based tracks and followed by the album’s most complex and impactful track, Alien), and has one of the best secret track inclusions with the punky X-Girlfriend – a style Bush would rarely use buy that they do well, and that is a perfect punctuation to both the more slowburn pacing of Gavin’s writing and to his abstract (and perhaps occasionally non-sensical) lyrics.

I never quite heard the Nirvana and Pearl Jam comparisons beyond that they’re all clearly grunge, and to be honest, I still don’t.  Rossdale doesn’t give in to the poppy edge of Bleach or Nevermind here, nor is Sixteen Stone nearly as discordant as In Utero, and it’s miles away from the more groove-laden, vocal-first Pearl Jam style.

Meaning: yes, it’s a stone-cold classic, and though clearly prepped for singles and stardom, it’s an album lacking in the “image” that somewhat dictated the following releases, and thus has a sense of purity to it.  And it holds up freakin’ well, thank you very much.