Lush

Ciao! Best of... (4AD Records)

Lush lasted much longer than anyone expected it to, what with the one-trick-pony nature of its guitar-driven sound. Any way you cut it, seven years was far too long a musical life span for a group that had such an incredible diminishing return on quality songs. Still, it should be noted that the history books often ignore a few important contributions Lush made in shaping the Lollapalooza-era indie-rock scene here in the States, both in sound and in establishing the foundations of a new altfemale archetype. The 20/20 hindsight evidenced on Ciao! rectifies that oversight with 18 tracks from the band's brief run in reverse chronological order.

Releasing the seminal singles "Sweetness and Light" and "De-Luxe" in 1989 and 1990 on England's eclectic 4AD Records, the London-based quartet came along at the right place and time with hyperproduced, textured guitar-weavings and soaring melodies that, along with the music of peers My Bloody Valentine and Ride, came to define the unavoidable hybridization of the punk rocker with the acid head: the shoegazer. Concerned with emotion over complexity, Lush's initial few songs use space and guitar effects to compensate for whatever training these semiskilled musicians lacked, thereby building repeating walls of drone and chimes -- a psychedelic DIY distortion that is soothingly warped. As with My Bloody Valentine's genre-defining sound, the use of bending guitar harmonics and layered girlish vocals was the most compelling thing about Lush, with lead singer/guitarist Miki Berenyi and chief songwriter/guitarist Emma Anderson creating extended harmonies that swirled in the best of ways.

Part of what was so simultaneously charming and damning about Lush's early recordings was the production work by Robin Guthrie, the influential guitarist from 4AD's ever-ethereal Cocteau Twins. Critics claimed him to be the Svengali behind Lush, and while his signature sound did essentially comprise the blueprint that would haunt the band through its final days, the accusation doesn't credit Berenyi and Anderson as the solid songwriters they are. "Sweetness and Light" is just as trance-inducing now as it was ten years ago, while "Monochrome" sounds heartbreakingly solid yet as corny as a soundtrack selection from a John Hughes teen comedy. Although late attempts to beef up the Lush sound to full-tilt rock simply fell flat, a few final stabs at stripped-down sugar pop, such as "Ladykillers" and "Single Girl," were semisuccessful, but the group's post-Guthrie work suffered a nosedive in quality. Fast and early success quickly turned sour after two disappointing albums and unpleasant months of heavy touring created dissension among members, with Anderson eventually opting out, and the devastating 1996 suicide of drummer Chris Acland ultimately left a strange and tragic pallor hanging over the group's demise.

The combined power of label and producer ensured the perfect product for a captive legion of goth-moper kids looking to get their rock on -- and rock they did. Lush was a loud and angelic live act, but more important the band was a major force in defining a strong image for women as leaders in the just-budding "alternative" music surge, well before the spectacle of baby-dressed histrionics took center stage.

 
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