Masterworks

Lush: taking your emotions and tying them in a bow

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Title: Split

Label: 4AD

Ah, Lush. A band that sparks fond memories for many music fans out there. Lush were a 4-piece ‘indie rock’ outfit but they were much more than those two words can ever describe. Lush specialised in catchy melodies but they packaged them, rolled them up in guitars that were fairly dripping in feedback and then adorned them with dreamy vocals.

This early 90s outfit arguably lead the shoegaze movement of the time. Some will bristle at that statement. Some will point a shaking finger of rage in my direction and shout words like “Bloody Valentine” and “Ride” in reply. Lush added an extra ingredient in their seamless recipe of musical life, though: the vocals of Miki Berenyi who fronted Emma Anderson, Chris Acland and Steve Rippon.

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Look, any band who can say that they were discovered by The Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie has got to be more than just ‘good’. In fact, it was Guthrie who helped them onto the 4AD record label ladder. 4AD, at that time, were a phenomenon all of their own. In fact, the label had reached a point in its existence where music buyers bought every 4AD release that was going, even if they knew nothing about the band contained on the record. Purely because the label was on such a run of form.

Acclaimed EPs were initially issued (Mad Love and Sweetness and Light) and then a very good debut album, Spooky in 1992. Split was released in 1994 but was partly subsumed in the emerging force that was BritPop and the US-based post-grunge movements.

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“I guess by the time the album came out, the press had moved on to grunge and then to the early days of Brit Pop. ‘Shoegazing’ was out,” stated bass player, Phil King to Ghostlife (click the link to see the full, excellent, interview). He who would join the band in 1991, replacing Rippon. “Two years is a long time in music and for the music press it was out of sight, out of mind – even though we had been busy touring the Spooky album, especially in the US and then working on the Split album.”

That was a shame because Split was and is, an incredible piece of art. It offers misty visualisations and can be slightly soundscape-y. One song morphs into another but there’s no escaping the creative range and self-assurance from the band. Emotion is the key word for the album, though, as the turbulent nature of the sensibility is investigated in full.

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Said Berenyi, looking back on the album’s creation, “It’s probably my favourite Lush album but for very personal reasons. I felt more confident as a songwriter at that stage and it felt good to be able to try new things. Emma was the Lush member who usually wrote the dancier tracks (Nothing Natural, Sweetness and Light), so it was fun for me to have a crack at it with Undertow. Lyrically, I decided to just lay it all out there and I think Light From A Dead Star was where it worked best. Of Emma’s songs, Desire Lines felt like something genuinely new for us – it had a dignity and sweep I didn’t think we were capable of, and When I Die made me weep the first time I heard it (and still does). It’s not an easy record to listen to but it is emotionally honest and that moves me.”

In fact, Desire Lines became a single off the album which spanned a mighty eight minutes, along with another lengthy outing, Never-Never. Showing that Lush were not afraid – even as the emerging Britpop wham-bam singles promoted short and sweet ditties – to explore thoughts and emotions and plunder time whilst doing so. A brilliant record and nailed on classic.

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You can find the album on a 4CD box set called Chorus which features the album, Split in its entirety but with the addition for seven extra tracks. Before you ask, the rest of the box set includes the albums Spooky, Lovelife, the singles and extra collected tracks over three of the early EPs, Gala plus Topolino, another collection but this time a wide array of B-sides and rarities. In effect, Lush’s entire career is stuffed into this nicely presented book-type ‘box’.

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