In the period of English music fondly remembered as ‘shoegazing’, Lush trailblazed with their distinctive multi-layered female vocals hugging and caressing all in their path. In 1996 they have returned and bass player Philip King tells ADAM CONNORS how their sound survives after the downfall of most of the early 90s supergroups.
Lush, fronted by the twin guitar and vocal smothering of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, are two of British shoegazing’s indie deities.
Miki, half-Japanese and always glitzy with her luminous red hair, is certainly unmistakable on the scene when Lush decide to re-emerge every couple of years. Emma slides back – vocalist, guitarist, a songwriter with the scope of tracks like the trip beats of Last Night and the chart-jigged Single Girl. The guys cut the rhythm.
With their new, glorious Lovelife album, the focus again moves ever-so slowly away from their days of the swirling beams and steady meticulism of the early-90s. A vein of pop infuses through the mid-90s Lush. And this time, on Lovelife, they have Jarvis.
That unofficial spokesperson for the moral majority and lead singer of Pulp, Jarvis Cocker, goes head to head with Miki in a ex-lovers’ bicker known as Ciao! on the new album. He’s cool, he’s suave, he tried to wedgy Michael Jackson on stage at the Brit Awards in February – so how did Lush grab him for a duet?
Bass player Philip King does a bit of gratuitous name dropping before continuing: “With Ciao!, Miki wrote it because Chris (Acland – drummer) wanted to finally sing on a Lush record. A duet, like a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood number.
“Anyway, Chris backed down and so we wanted the lead singer of Moose, do you know Moose?”
“Well, he said ‘why don’t you ask Jarvis’, because Pulp supported us over the years. So we sent him the tape, he said fine, we did it all in a couple of hours and haven’t seen him since.”
That sounds boring, I tell Phil. What happened to that once-NME blood in you? The little fib and fad in every wordful?
“Oh, we met Jarvis’ mother though. We did this breakfast TV show and Jarvis’ mum was there saying what a good boy Jarvis was.”
There can be no better foundation to understand where Lush are coming from than the divide between the Seppo sound (exemplified perhaps by the Michael Jackson/Jarvis Cocker scene at the Brit Awards) and the shoegazing, love/life leanings of that epic British period of music which Lush helped mould – Ride, Chapterhouse, My Bloody Valentine, THAT Stone Roses album … tinges of lovelorn moaning, dancable beats, fringe-over-face sneaker scoping.
And what comes out of it all five years later? The shoegazers are all either broken-up, bickering prima donnas or bastard offspring of 60s backwardness. But not Lush (… and maybe the Charlatans?).
“That’s the thing with us. Lots of bands go through transitions, they’ll go to Nashville and do their bloody country or R’n’B album, but we’ve basically progressed from album to album like the sort of groups we grew up on – The Cure or Souixie And The Banshees – who just kept going on fobbing off whatever was fashionable and plowing their own path.
“And what has also been difficult for other English bands of that shoegazing set, like Chapterhouse, was that once they’d ceased to be popular in England they’d die.”
It all seems pretty logical when you consider the list above: the ‘Roses virtually went to Memphis (heck, U2 did!) and where are Chapterhouse and MBV? As a final nail, Ride have disintegrated as of this, their current and final album, Tarantula. Phil’s days of working at NME are shining through in his analysis.
In comparison, Lush have staggered their worldwide success through touring the US, Europe and Japan constantly since their beginnings in 1989, sticking to their thing and building up cred for the very reason of their homeland’s fickle, kiddy popularity structure. A structure which builds you up and tears you down in a matter of weeks.
With 1992’s Spooky still on permanent rotation in my Zen room – their voices come in through your fingertips and hang on an impenetrable wall of guitars – the release in March of their new album Lovelife has a more urgent, pop feel. It still has the sweeping voices and guitars, as well as the throwaway pop track Single Girl, but Miki, Emma, Chris and Phil are now lauded as the few survivors of that eerie collision of pop, goth, dance and drugs that epitomises England, circa early ’90s.
“Lovelife is certainly more traditional sounding than the ones we’ve made before”, confides Phil in their oh-so-gradual shift into the more obvious pop vein.
“I think our audiences are slightly older, and a lot more loyal because of our background, so being a bit more adventurous – with simplicity this time – is just another step for Lush. But yeah, we’ll always have somewhere to play.”