By any reasonable analysis, Gavin Rossdale and his band Bush have operated for so long now in the Venn diagram set where critical disdain and commercial success overlap they’ve almost come to define it. The conventional narrative has Rossdale craving credibility, but unable to reconcile this with the grunge-lite, radio-bland output that seemingly flows in his veins.
Derided for taking a chamois leather to Sub Pop, disparaged for his lyrical earnestness and, perhaps above all, damned for having the temerity to sell millions of albums. Oh, and for leaving his native UK to do so. Sometimes, though, conventional narratives reveal uncontroversial truths.
Following up Bush’s 2011 album The Sea Of Memories – itself presented after a decade’s absence by the band, and with only half the original line-up – Man On The Run arrives on the 20th anniversary of Bush’s debut, Sixteen Stone. Any notable evolution is not immediately apparent. Straightforward chord progressions are overlaid with single-line guitar hooks wedded to melodramatic choruses of a rousing nature. It’s been a winning recipe for them, certainly, but the ingredients aren’t quite of the quality they were.
A de-rigueur flirtation with electronica that first surfaced on 1999’s The Science Of Things still remains (Loneliness Is A Killer, Speeding Through The Bright Light And Losing), bolstering the nagging feeling that a zeitgeist is still being chased, albeit one of 15 years ago: Filter, VAST et al. Lead-off single The Only Way Out reveals glimmers of past glories – instant hooks and well-defined dynamics; it’s little stretch to picture swathes of the dewy-eyed faithful swaying, phones aloft, ecstatic.
The more successful material seems to understand this: more elbow room in the verses, and tempos straying from the glut of wearying mid-paced morass. Eye Of The Storm shines in particular; a slow burning, well-crafted anthem reminiscent of the Verve Pipe’s better moments. Unfortunately the few gems on offer are dulled by association, and no amount of fairy dust – and at times the stuff is being spooned on – can elevate a plethora of pedestrian also-ran tunes. And at 14 tracks long, a judicious edit might have been wise.
It’s unlikely any of this will faze the regular Bush devotee, and the maxim ‘if it ain’t broke…’ has served many a career. What ultimately disappoints, whatever one’s opinion, is that any remnants of pizzazz have been subsumed by the merely proficient.