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Deconstructing "Everything Zen."

By Douglas Wolk

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  Bush aren't nearly as bad as they could be. "Everything Zen" was surprisingly inoffensive British fake grunge; "Glycerine" was a surprisingly inoffensive British fake grunge power ballad. They can't even be blamed for the existence of the electronica remix album Deconstructed (Interscope). A "contractual obligation," guitarist Nigel Pulsford calls it in the most recent issue of Kerrang! "In truth, we couldn't have done anything about it if we didn't like it. It's not really anything to do with us."

That's believable. It's got tracks from their first two albums remixed into various fashionable forms by a couple of big names (Goldie and Tricky get credited on the cover sticker), a couple of has-beens (Philip Steir, formerly of Consolidated, and Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto), and a bunch of never-weres. Oh, and Stingray -- a couple of members of Bush themselves and some friends -- remixing "Mouth."

You can imagine the process by which the album was dreamed up. Razorblade Suitcase (Interscope), goes the line of reasoning, didn't do nearly as well as Sixteen Stone because . . . because the kids aren't buying grunge any more, perhaps? Because the kids are buying electronica?

But nothing on Deconstructed does anything particularly new with electronics. Some of it is derivative not just of styles but of particular artists. (The Dub Pistols' version of "History" is straight-up fake Chemical Brothers, though without the Chems' rhythmic whammy.) It doesn't work as rock, it doesn't work as dance music, and it especially doesn't work as remixes.

The point of doing a remix is to open up a recording, to discover its hidden textural or rhythmic or contextual possibilities: to, as the academics say, deconstruct it -- literally. That's natural for dance music and hip-hop, and it makes sense in some other pop contexts. It usually works best with artists who build their songs around a groove (see Can's Sacrilege or Run On's Sit Down EP), or who vary their arrangements widely (see Bjšrk's Telegram), or who are willing to have their recordings remixed into nondance forms (see Pest 5000's Palimpsest). The idea is that you're making a kind of music that's conceived of as a studio project -- that's not trying to imply a live performance. But Bush are a rock band, or at least trying to be one, and even on meticulously tweaked multi-track recordings, rock bands work on how the instruments play off one another in real time -- in short, how they sound on stage. If you open up Bush's mixes, there's not much you can rearrange without destroying the formal integrity of the performance. It's simply a different kind of music from electronica. A techno-enhanced version of "Everything Zen" is no more fun than, say, a techno-free version of "Firestarter."

That doesn't stop the remixers on Deconstructed, whose work here mostly consists of grafting bits of the original vocals or guitar parts onto new and pretty much unrelated tracks. For the ones that are good track makers in the first place, that can be okay. Goldie's "Swallowed" ditches just about everything but a few snatches of vocal and uses them as sound effects for a sharp, dark tech-step track. Most of the time, though, the effect is like listening to a so-so electronica compilation while your little sister is playing Sixteen Stone too loudly in the next room.

The one song that Deconstructed transforms effectively is not Bush's own: it's a Tricky-produced cover, "In a Lonely Place," written by Joy Division, originally recorded by New Order, and then re-recorded by Bush for the Crow II soundtrack. The melody has been rewritten to the point where Gavin Rossdale isn't quite sure which notes he's trying to hit, and the basic elements of the song -- a bass figure, a background drone, a drum pattern, a hint of guitar -- have been reconfigured into a surprising, clever, "new" piece of music.

New Order are actually a great model for a rock band who want to leave their songs open for remixes and remakes -- honest to God, "Blue Monday '88" holds up now, and so do all the alternate recordings on Substance. What did they have that Bush doesn't? An affection for dance-club music and polyrhythms that showed up on their records the first time around, for one thing. For another, singing that was far from the most important aspect of their songs, and a singer who knew it.

Rossdale's voice has always been a trifle irritating, but here it's full-on annoying. Could that be because, when he starts singing, his clear, English-accented speaking voice suddenly gains an American Deep South accent and a painfully mannered Kurt Cobain rasp? Or is it that, broken down into soundbites, his lyrics become even more aggressively meaningless? Or that nobody can remember the names of the other three guys in the band?

That's a cheap shot, but it's easy to take cheap shots at Bush. Deconstructed isn't a real album: it's a marketing ploy (three of its tracks have already shown up on soundtracks) blown up into an hour-long mistake. The band showed up originally just in time to jump on one trend. Maybe they're jumping onto another now, and maybe they're being pushed, but the effect is the same. And it's almost never anything better than inoffensive.

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