Photo Credit: Dove Shore
“We used to be someone, now we’re nobody,” Bush sings on “Identity,” one of the tracks from their ninth studio album, not coincidentally titled The Art of Survival. Bush was certainly somebody at least in the mid and late-’90s when the rock subgenre known as grunge looked as though it had its day but Bush was able to keep the sound not just alive but multi-platinum. The band stood out for two main reasons: first, lead singer Gavin Rossdale proved enormously popular among young girls, essentially becoming ’90s alternative rock’s first musician to become a teen idol in the traditional sense. This helped sell records but simultaneously caused a backlash among critics and even some fans which the band would never truly shake.
Second, the grunge movement had been closely identified with the Seattle, Washington music scene, while Bush hailed from the U.K. The band would always do quite a bit better in the U.S. than on their home turf (beginning with their debut album Sixteen Stone), a fact which they’ve clearly never forgotten, as The Art of Survival is loaded with Americanisms. “May Your Love Be Pure” and “More Than Machines” address the recent California drought and the overturning of Roe vs. Wade (respectively), while even “Gaslight” includes the lyric: “Never bring a knife to a gunfight,” an expression commonly associated with the American Old West.
And while the term “grunge” may have gone out with dial-up internet (unlike punk or heavy metal, grunge never really splintered into any sub-genres), The Art of Survival is unquestionably a grunge album, as is made clear from the opening cut “Heavy is the Ocean.” “Slow Me” is a bit more uptempo and modern-sounding, while “Kiss Me I’m Dead” and “Judas is a Riot” also sound like something directly from the band’s early days. A few tracks might veer a bit closer to metal, including “Gaslight.” “Human Sand” opens with a strong Jimi Hendrix-like riff and boasts the album’s best hook.
A few words should be said for Rossdale, who’s always been a more robust and distinct vocalist than his reputation would imply, and he does remain as solid as ever on this album. He also now carries the flag as the only founding member of Bush, as drummer Robin Goodridge left in 2019 to be replaced by Nick Hughes. Completing the line-up are two other fairly recent additions, guitarist Chris Traynor and bassist Corey Blitz, who first joined the band in 2010. Between them, at least, the instrumentation on The Art of Survival is never less than spot-on.
Lyrics on a few tracks are a bit more ambiguous, such as “Shark Bite.” Despite the numerous leanings towards Americans, The Art of Survival opens with the aforementioned “Heavy is the Ocean,” which clearly aims for universal appeal in its message: “Heavy is the ocean // Steady all the waves… // This bravery will save this world a bit.” But will this album do the same for Bush’s career? The twenty-first century so far has not been too kind to Bush in terms of commercial success (the band was even formally defunct for about seven years), and with The Art of Survival they may not be heading back towards their major success, but it’s safe to say that their survival is imminent.