Boomkat Product Review:
Lush's first proper album is one of the shoegaze era's most enduring tomes, misunderstood when it was released in 1992, but inspiring a legion of soundalikes all the same. If you missed it first time, get yerself acquainted.
Despite how it might look now, the early '90s wasn't a great period for alternative music. Grunge, despite Nirvana's success, was mostly a toxic boys club with duff music to boot, and shoegaze, although it might have been re-examined in recent years, was despised by a laddish, petty music press. The foul smell of Britpop was in the air, even if the festering shitpiles hadn't been trodden in yet, and a band like Lush stuck out like a sore thumb. They didn't make dense noise like My Bloody Valentine and they didn't make perfectly packaged pop, Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi were weirder than that, and far more singular. The duo had met at school and struck up a friendship around their love of music, eventually publishing a fanzine together. When they went to university and met vocalist Meriel Barham (aye of the very excellent Pale Saints and, later, Kuchen), bassist Steve Rippon and drummer Chris Acland, they formed the Baby Machines, later renaming themselves Lush. Barham didn't last long, quitting Lush to join Pale Saints, and Berenyi took over on lead vocals, with Anderson taking the harmonies.
It's the interplay between Berenyi and Anderson (who both took turns writing the songs) that provides Lush with its beating heart. Their unusual upper-register harmonies were at odds with the British alternative scene's expected snot, sharing more with delicate folk than laddy rawk, so it makes sense that they ended up signing to 4AD. Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie assisted Lush with production on the first few records, and while his production is less evident on 'Spooky', the influence of his band still weighs on the songs. Anderson and Berenyi's guitars shimmer into thick waves that underpin the duo's shy, romantic vocals. Listening back now it's not hard to understand how confusing the music was to so many indie listeners; while their sound can trace through whimsical twee pop and the C86 sound, those scenes were mostly an underground concern. And although they were at home on 4AD alongside artists like Throwing Muses and This Mortal Coil, their poppiness offered the music press a red herring.
Since the mid-'90s, when Lush split following the tragic death of Acland, the interest in shoegaze and Lush has increased steadily. And as the music press softened its attitude to rock music made by spirited women, plenty of similar bands have emerged in Lush's stead. 'Spooky' then is an important benchmark that appeared like a crack of light and now sounds like blazing sunshine. They were way ahead of their time, and if you've spotted Emma Anderson's debut solo album 'Pearlies' and haven't clapped your ears around this album, you know what you have to do.