30. Bush, Sixteen Stone
A few year backs, when I called a different online space my digital home, I spent an entire day watching Michael Bay films and chronicling the experience for anyone who cared to read. I’d sworn off the efforts of the director following the appalling Armageddon, and decided, for reasons that escape me now, to watch everything I’d missed, in chronological order, across one morning and afternoon, culminating with an evening viewing of Transformers. I tried reading a book afterward and couldn’t do it. That’s how bad the endless march of terrible filmmaking scrambled my brain. While recently listening to Sixteen Stone, the debut album from Bush, I was reminded of that earlier day. The marathon quality was absent, but otherwise this was roughly the musical equivalent of my time scalding my intellect with the cinema of Bay, especially in that I have to reasonably admit there is far worse directors than Bay and far worse bands than Bush. And yet my loathing for each of them is so much stronger than anything I can generate for their more inept peers.
It’s pretty easy for me to figure out why Bush rankles me more than many other dreadful alternative and hard rock bands from the nineteen-nineties renaissance of dreadful alternative and hard rock bands. Sixteen Stone was release in December of 1994, which meant its arrival at “new rock alternative” radio roughly coincided with my own. The redundancy of the mandated playlists I’d be sharing on air was going to be difficult for me to adjust to regardless. Having those playlists littered with songs that created an instinctual revulsion in me made it that much more dispiriting. Bush became the tangible representation of everything I found to be awful about commercial radio and that particular era of alternative music, when the success of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam inspired the labels to commit themselves wholeheartedly to anything that boomed with grinding guitars. Subtlety was out the window, and variety went trailing after it.
As I noted, Bush wasn’t the worst band to prosper in this environment. They were simply the bad band that was most inescapable. Sixteen Stone yielded five singles before the label finally placed it delicately back in the vault, every one of them peaking somewhere in the top five of the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Two of them, “Comedown” and “Glycerine,” topped that chart. Those singles all received saturation airplay, and they hardly faded into obscurity after they slipped off the charts, nestling snugly in our recurrent tracks that claimed a healthy portion of the broadcast day. During my three years at the station, it’s possible I never had a single shift without at least one Bush song on my playlist. In the summer and fall of 1995, there was a decent chance I was pulling Sixteen Stone off the shelf three or four separate times whenever I sat in that studio.
Here Sixteen Stone is, respectably high on the countdown, but also low enough to suggest that the 90FM on-air staff may have grown sick of it, too. Since it’s on the Countdown, I listened to it again, hearing some of that music for the first time in more than a decade. Once, years after my time in commercial radio, I was horrified when “Everything Zen” (the album’s first single) came on in a bar and I found I could still sing along with it, my brain scorched through cruel repetition with the inane lyrics (“There must be something we can eat/ Maybe find another lover/ Should I fly to Los Angeles/ Find my asshole brother”). So when that album opener struck during this new listen, it was with great relief that I found myself unable to recapture the words from my memory. That was the first and last pleasant surprise while listening.
It is much as I remember it. There are insipid lyrics delivered with Gavin Rossdale’s anguished vocals. The music thunders, though in a plodding, murky way that makes it dull instead of dynamic. And everything on that album is painfully derivative, the band obviously doing their very best to ape the sound of Seattle, especially Nirvana. A track like “Bomb,” with its snaky guitar line and tendency to leap from a murmur to a scream, sounds like it was written by someone trying to get Nevermind down to a crass formula. Even the tiniest hints of modification in sound are swept away rapidly, engulfed by the by-the-numbers grunge. “Swim” has a nicely punk-tinged beginning, until the band seemingly snaps out of it and gets back to the business of making the same damn sound with all the enthusiasm of the person at the end of the assembly line who affixes the darkness knob onto each new toaster. It’s not all bad: “Comedown” does have a pretty good hook. That’s about all I’ve got, though.
Bush produced four albums in their first iteration, concluding with Golden State, released in 2001, before the requisite breakup took place. When no one much cared about Rossdale’s solo career, a band reunion became all but inevitable (surely hastened by a competitive urge due to the healthier career of Rossdale’s wife, Gwen Stefani). There have been two albums since Bush reunited, in 2010. Thankfully, I haven’t knowingly heard a single second of either one.
Ladybeard was a band out of Madison, Wisconsin. They played a pummeling brand of hard rock that had just enough of a touch of heavy metal to it that this was surely the first rotation album the hosts of 90FM’s Metal Thunder grabbed whenever they subbed for a general programming shift. Big Dumb Shoe Face Guy was their only album issued on CD (they previously had a cassette-only release). The band broke up in the spring of 1996, and frontman Isaac Schulze went on the form the psychobilly band Mad Trucker Gone Mad, which I remember as one of the bigger Madison bands of the second half of the nineties. Usually, I try to link to at least one song. Instead, you can go listen to the whole album.
At this particular point of the nineties, I would not have guessed that Peter Murphy would land an album on this list. It’s not solely that his brand of layered, elegant pop seemed out of step with the times (there are plenty of exceptions to the prevailing sound up and down this list). By this point, Murphy seemed like a bit of an afterthought, completely deserving of his status as a alternative rock legend for his bygone days with Bauhaus, but without much immediate cachet, even though he was only a few years removed from a sizable college radio hit. Cascade, Murphy’s fifth solo album, became his last for Beggar’s Banquet, a label that had been his home since Bauhaus. And it would be seven years before his next full-length release, ushering in the portion of his career marked by making music only periodically and showing up in the strangest of places.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides