Tonight’s selections from Lush’s first album, 1990’s Gala (a compilation of their UK EPs).
For a too-brief moment, Lush were the platonic ideal of an underground college band turning their dreams into a career. Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi had channeled their careers as teen fanzine publishers and avid showgoers into singing and guitar-playing frontwomen, recruiting bassist Steve Rippon and drummer Chris Acland after meeting them at North London Polytechnic University. Anderson and Berenyi wrote all the songs, mostly individually but sometimes together, drawing on influences as wide as ABBA, the Shangri-Las, and Siouxsie Sioux. They spent their early gigs opening for bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Pastels and, according to Berenyi’s crucial 2022 memoir, Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me From Success, fending off snide dismissals from asshole band guys.
On their first two releases, the six-track EP Scar and compilation album Gala, Lush drew on their love of post-punk and riot grrrl, sometimes spangled and ramshackle on songs like “Bitter” and “Sweetness and Light.” The latter song, an early fan favorite, exemplified their sense of elegance, laying down a bed of flange for Berenyi and Anderson’s high-pitched harmonies to float through, a blueprint for the sound they’d carry through their 1992 debut, Spooky. In retrospect, it was probably not the most auspicious time for an opaque British rock band known for beautiful harmonies to release their first proper album. Grunge was exploding around the world, and disaffected men from San Diego to Australia were being stalked by besuited label thirst-buckets looking to hit post-Nirvana paydirt. A band fronted by two women from the London underground whose guitar sound conveyed sangfroid rather than ennui was decidedly not that, and the UK was going in a more man-heavy direction, too, with the massive success of Primal Scream’s house-oriented psychedelia and the louche Britpop lads priming for a takeover.
As signees of the eclectic 4AD, Lush initially fit better alongside the label’s arty, college-radio roster—like Throwing Muses and the Pixies—and by 1989, Lush were near-instant heroes of the British press. “We are racking up write-ups on a weekly basis and score a full-page Melody Maker interview barely after our first rehearsals with Steve,” Berenyi writes in Fingers Crossed. “While the plaudits are flattering, they were worryingly premature and punters expecting to witness the Next Big Thing are disappointed to find that Lush are a stumbling band fronted by a painfully shy and barely audible vocalist.” — Pitchfork
Sweetness and Light
Lush often sounded like a more pop-based Cocteau Twins, with hints of My Bloody Valentine’s noise sheets. A gushing, twin-guitar overdrive with forward surges serves the shapely melodies; guitarists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, who write the band’s songs separately, add distinctive harmonies to every number. (Mad Love was produced by the Cocteaus’ Robin Guthrie, which furthers Lush’s comparisons to that band.)
Bowing with the six-song Scar, this winsome young London noise-pop quartet combines guitarist Miki Berenyi’s wispy voice with wanton semi-freakout playing. Although some songs are not as tuneful as they might be (Lush stood well left of the Primitives), memorable items like the thick “Scarlet” and the float-away “Etheriel” — both co-written by Berenyi and guitarist Emma Anderson — arrange the band’s basic components with naîve ingenuity. [...]
Besides compiling the EPs in their entirety, Gala adds two more Guthrie collaborations (a nifty cover of ABBA’s “Hey Hey Helen” and a much lighter second version of “Scarlet”), plus three subsequent tracks produced by Tim Friese-Greene, who divides Lush’s music into distinct segments of guitar craziness and overly restrained pop orderliness. Though an inconsistent collection (blame the uneven material), “De-Luxe” (from Mad Love) and the whooshing “Breeze” (from the Friese-Greene-produced Sweetness and Light) are among the band’s best efforts. — Trouser Press
Not exactly a “proper” debut studio album, Gala was the U.S.-release compilation album of Lush’s three U.K. EPs, Scar (1989), Mad Love (1990), and Sweetness And Light (1990), and also included an alternate version of their song “Scarlet” and a breezy cover of ABBA’s song “Hey Hey Helen”. A balance is struck between the shorter, punkier numbers that are sharp and bracing, filled with shifting tempo changes and Miki’s bitter vocal delivery that bristles with defiance, and their more luminous, ethereal, but melancholy musings, complete with beguiling harmonizing between Miki and Emma.
Standout tracks include “Sweetness And Light” which encompasses both the rough and the smooth, with its fragile, sky-high harmonies, mid-song mad-dash guitar collision, and vast expanse of melodic sound, the brisk, but smoothly soaring “Breeze”, the abrasive guitar-rock “Leaves Me Cold” and “Baby Talk”, and “De-Luxe”, a rush of sweet vocals, choppy drums, and fiery guitar work that scintillatingly merges start-stop guitar dynamics with vibrant, short-phrase vocal delivery. — Big Takeover
Leaves Me Cold
For those folks unwilling to shell out 10 bucks for an import EP with three or four songs, but nonetheless enraptured by the stream of positive reviews and hype pouring forth from weekly editions of Melody Maker and the NME (which were probably read in the record store, but not purchased because, man, those were also some expensive imports), Gala was an opportunity to get ears around a band that exuded a ton of promise.
Lush was, at the time, the standard-bearer for the nascent shoegazing movement. Before the scene evolved into its woozy, miasmic, post-Loveless womb-rock form, "shoegaze" was best described as pop bands who balanced thick guitar textures and pronounced melodies, and Lush was the preeminent practicioner of the form. The three EPs compiled on Gala demonstrated the band's rapid evolution over the course of 1989 and early 1990. After the wiry and direct Scar mini-album (which captured a nascent band's poppy, post-punk approach), Lush enlisted Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins to produce the four-song Mad Love EP, which, unsurprisingly, was thick with overdubs, guitar washes, and dreampop elements, an approach which was refined further on the three-track, Tim Friese-Greene (Talk Talk)-produced Sweetness and Light EP. Gala tacked two new tracks: a reworked (and Guthrie-produced) version of Scar's "Scarlet" and a cover of ABBA's underrated divorce-pop masterpiece "Hey Hey Helen."
The compilation was hugely successful. Following Ride's similar Smile EP and now-classic Nowhere LP by a couple of months, it positioned Lush and Ride as the two primary flag-bearers for U.K. shoegaze in the American college-rock underground, and the two were perfectly complementary, as both bands experimented with the alchemy of pop melodies and guitar soundscapes in different proportions. Appropriately enough, the two went out on a co-headlining tour in 1991, further boosting the profile of both bands and spreading the shoegaze gospel across the grunge-saturated United States. — Orlando Weekly
In a sense, the beginning of Lush was as inevitable as its ending was not. Formed from a friendship started at age fourteen by Londoners Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, the pair ran a fanzine, and attended a catholic variety of gigs nightly at the likes of Fulham Greyhound and Hammersmith Clarendon. And they were learning the ropes in other people's bands - Berenyi in The Bugs, Anderson in The Rover Girls - working to make their own band a reality. Eventually, along with the absurdly good-humoured Lancastrian punk drummer Chris Acland, and bassist Steve Rippon, they went out on their own.
For music, the late Eighties were a vibrant and volatile time. There was acid house, US art-core, death metal, fledgling industrial and European sampledelia, a rising Madchester and the shimmering punk pop of The Primitives, plus the delicate oceanics of The Sundays. Having much in common with these last two and, attitude-wise, at least three of the others, Lush were quickly hot property. One review in Melody Maker brought 12 major labels to see them play at London's ULU. None called again, but 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell was interested, soon putting the band in Blackwing Studios with John Fryer.
The combination of personal freedom with a growing experience and expertise took Lush onto a new creative plane. As such, the pressure was immediately back on to break America. Now the touring became back-breaking and repetitive. Frustration and bad feeling within the band grew inexorably. Acland, ordered to rest by his doctor, returned to his parents' home in the Lake District. Anderson, dissatisfied with her current position, called a meeting and announced her departure. Then worse news was to follow. Up in the Lakes - horribly, terribly - Acland had hanged himself. "For me," says Berenyi "That was the end. There was no way on earth I could have gone on with Lush without him, because I always firmly believed that without his benign influence Emma and I would have torn each other apart years ago.” — 4AD
“They were totally obsessed,” says Anderson, who makes no secret about her adversarial relationship with the band’s management at the time. “They used to sit in meetings and say, ‘Oh, next album we’ll just do America. We won’t even bother with Britain.’ Just to wind me up. I thought, ‘Well maybe there won’t be a next album.’... By the time we did that Gin Blossoms/Goo Goo Dolls tour, I think everyone had just retreated into themselves. It was just a nightmare.”
“We were just being told what to do and we were doing it, and it was a mistake,” she continues. “You get to the point where you sort of go, ‘Why am I doing this?’ We were actually doing quite well in Britain. We had a Top 10 album and three Top 30 singles. ‘Maybe we should be planning to go back there and do some festivals, and capitalizing on that.’ But it was like, ‘No, you have to go back to America. You’ve got to go back to America.’ And at the end I thought, ‘Fuck this. I’d rather work in an office.’”
“I think I’d completely lost my mind by that point,” says Berenyi. “I wasn’t in a very good place. We’d been tossed about in so many different directions that I just thought, ‘Alright, I’m just going to do what they fucking tell us to do.’ Which wasn’t great, because actually then I think Emma felt completely unsupported in the fact that she really wasn’t happy with the direction that we were being pushed in. And she was right. But I just don’t think I had any fight left in me. It was ludicrous, but it was just chasing that prize.”
Says Berenyi of the pressures that led to the band’s dissolution: “I remember Tanya Donelly, when she was in Belly, saying that she just wanted to sell to the however many hundred thousand or something people who bought her records. That’s quite a lot of people. I’m quite happy with that. But of course you’re not really allowed to do that. You have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing, and hope that you’re going to become a billion selling act, without really acknowledging that to become that billion selling act means knocking off quite a few corners from the way you operate and the kind of stuff that you write, which we didn’t really want to do. — Under the Radar
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