Sunday, March 19

Ciao! Best of Lush

Five years have passed since Ciao! Best of Lush was released.

Of course, Ciao! Best of Lush is a collection of Lush singles, nothing "new" here. But the recognition is more than deserved and should turn on some recent listeners who were not as fortunate to be in on their entire catalog as it unfolded in the 1990's.

Ciao! Best of Lush
released: 19 Mar 2001 UK, 05 Jun 2001 US
Format: CD, Compilation, Remastered

  1. Ladykillers 3:13
  2. Single Girl 2:35
  3. Ciao! 3:31
  4. 500 (Shake Baby Shake) (Single Remix) 3:21
  5. Light From A Dead Star 3:16
  6. Love At First Sight 5:12
  7. Hypocrite 2:53
  8. Desire Lines 7:39
  9. Lovelife 3:56
  10. When I Die 4:18
  11. Nothing Natural 5:54
  12. Untogether 3:34
  13. For Love 3:29
  14. Monochrome 5:06
  15. De-Luxe 3:27
  16. Sweetness And Light 5:17
  17. Thoughtforms 2:43
  18. Etheriel 3:24

Artwork By [Art Direction] - Vaughan Oliver
Artwork By [Design] - Chris Bigg
Mastered By [Remastered] - John Dent
Remastered at Loud Mastering
Mixed By - Alan Moulder (tracks: 5 to 10) , John Fryer (tracks: 17, 18) , Paul Q. Kolderie (tracks: 1 to 4) , Robin Guthrie (tracks: 11 to 15) , Sean Slade (tracks: 1 to 4) , Tim Friese-Greene (tracks: 16)
Photography - Dominic Davies
Photography [Original] - Ichiro Kono , Jim Friedman , Richard Caldicott
Photography [Portrait Page 12] - Suzie Gibbons
Photography [Portrait Page 3] - Mike Diver
Photography [Portrait Page 6] - Michael Lavine
Photography [Portrait Page 9-19] - Sheila Rock
Producer - John Fryer (tracks: 17, 18) , Lush (tracks: 1 to 10, 17, 18) , Mike Hedges (tracks: 5 to 10) , Pete Bartlett (tracks: 1 to 4) , Robin Guthrie (tracks: 11 to 15) , Tim Friese-Greene (tracks: 16)
Written-By - E. Anderson* (tracks: 2, 4, 8 to 11, 14 to 18) , M. Berenyi* (tracks: 1, 3, 5, 7, 12, 13, 18)

The inner booklet contains this full bio by Dominic Wills for 4AD, which is also presented on 4AD's artists page for Lush.

In a sense, the beginning of Lush was as inevitable as its ending was not. One of the Nineties' most unusual, fascinating and confounding independent bands, they sprang from a friendship formed, at 14, by Londoners Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. In their own words "music was it" - closer involvement was imperative. They ran a fanzine, attended a catholic variety of gigs nightly at the likes of Fulham Greyhound and Hammersmith Clarendon (all rough, all gone). It'd be ABC one day, then Xmal Deutschland, then Gang Of Four. And they were learning the ropes in other people's bands - Berenyi in The Bugs, Anderson in The Rover Girls - working to make "our 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.

"We were kind of punk rock in one way", says Anderson. "We did think 'Well, if they can do it, why the fuck can't we?' Basically, our idea was to have extremely loud guitars with much weaker vocals. And, really the vocals were weaker due to nervousness - we'd always be going 'Turn them down! Turn them down!'."

"We weren't good enough musicians to just jam," continues Berenyi, "so the songs had to come first. We had to go for good melodies, so I guess we drew on any music we heard in our youth, anything from The Beatles to Carly Simon, any pop music. The great swathes of sound, the effects came after the song, and were probably born of our incompetence and lack of confidence. We just didn't think we were good enough to do anything more complicated."

"It made us more open-minded when working with producers," she adds. "There wasn't this 'Well, we do it this way' attitude. We were willing to learn. And that's what happened when we did Scar. That was supposed to be demos because Ivo still wasn't sure about us. He was completely taken aback by what came out of that session."

"We started by writing crappy riot grrl anthems," says Berenyi, "which was probably charming in a juvenile way. But there was a very rapid shift from the minute we started to write for records. The music, the lyrics became much more thoughtful and expressive, more important, really. I remember that change beginning when Emma wrote Thoughtforms, it certainly made me think I needed to get my act together."

They all got their acts together quickly, so much so that Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, producer of Lush's Mad Love EP and their debut LP, Spooky, was in some quarters credited with transforming them, even with writing their material. "Ivo was against us working with Robin," says Anderson. "People said at the time, 'Don't you think that being produced by Robin that you're being swamped by the 4AD collective, that you're not Lush anymore?' But I never saw it like that. I knew Robin before I knew Ivo and I knew he liked what we did, and we all loved the Cocteaus anyway. And we had an enormous amount of freedom, and more loyalty and attention from the label than most other bands ever got."

"As for Robin writing the songs," says Berenyi, "they were already written, every part, every tambourine hit, everything was arranged. Then we went into the studio and experimented with different sounds. We did learn a lot from Robin, about sound, about how to sound bigger. Before him we had, like, two pedals. Then the next tour we had banks of equipment to reproduce that sound."

By the time Spooky was released in 1992, Rippon had amicably departed, to be replaced by Phil King (ex of altie legends Felt and Biff Bang Pow!). The LP went Top 10 in the UK and was an indie chart-topper. It sold upwards of 120,000 in the US too, in part due to one of the most glorious chapters in the Lush story: Lollapalooza II.

"We were bottom of a very heavy bill," explains Berenyi "and, though we knew Perry Farrell was a fan, we felt like we had nothing to lose - we were just grateful not to get bottled off. As a result we had zero attitude, simply tried to be pals with everyone. Bear in mind that this was only the second Lolla and cynicism and star pecking-order hadn't yet come into it. Everyone shared the same backstage area, nobody was treated like royalty. "I guess we 'bonded' mostly with The Mary Chain (fellow Britishers) and Ministry. There was a lot of stage invading and leakage from one band to another. On selected occasions, Lush had Soundgarden's drummer, Pearl Jam's guitarist (in a dress), Ministry's drummer (again in a dress) and a naked invasion by two Ministry roadies (BIG guys) and Mr Lifto from Jim Rose's performers. We in turn joined Soundgarden (Emma and Chris on drums during Cop Killer), Pearl Jam (me on guitar for Keep On Rockin' In The Free World - yes yes, I know...), The Mary Chain on backing vocals. Ice Cube was jumping around to Lord knows what. Probably the Chili Peppers too, but I'd be too drunk to remember. The other major event was my spectacular, tequila-fuelled stage dive off a 15-foot stage in Dallas to Ministry which ended up with a blood soaked dress and 14 stitches in my head. All in all, an absolutely grand time. I loved it."

Having proven beyond all argument their hellraising credentials, Lush repaired to Rockfield Studios in Wales with the renowned Mike Hedges. The recording of Split, their second LP proper (a collection of their early EPs, entitled Gala, had been released in the US only) was exceptionally testing. Expectations of an American breakthrough were high and the pressure was on. Beyond this, Berenyi and Anderson, writing separately as usual, were digging deep. A writing pattern seemed to be emerging. With the likes of "Hypocrite", Berenyi appeared to be more punky with a melodic pop edge, her lyrics like confrontational diary extracts, while Anderson was more impressionistic, brooding, even progressive, enjoying the sound of words as much as their meaning, as evinced by her "Desire Lines". It was not a theory that held up for long.

"Everything was great," says Anderson about the build-up and reaction to Split. "We got everything we wanted. Our own tour? We got it. Europe? We got it. America? Yes. In fact, everything was going well until Split, when the momentum dropped. We were immensely pleased with it, even though it had taken so much out of us. We thought it was the best work we'd done. So we were disappointed with the reaction - it sold half as much as Spooky. But, having got through that bad time, when the carpet really felt like it was being pulled out from under us, we really did get stronger. Strangely, it really boosted our confidence."

Despite its musical bravado and violent lyrical honesty - "We both seemed to move between massive self-hatred and violent accusation of other people," says Anderson - Split was seen as a disaster, and changed the band's approach.

"With me it was a case of once bitten," explains Berenyi. "I felt I'd written extremely personally on Split and had that dismissed incredibly glibly. I felt I had to back off because I couldn't really take that reaction, to my stuff or to Emma's. I mean, "When I Die" was all about her father dying, it was really poignant and that was ignored - not so much in Europe or the US, but certainly in the UK."

As is often the case, failure proved liberating. While the pressure came off, new enthusiasm was injected by the arrival of new manager Peter Felstead. The band threw themselves into recording what would be their final LP, Lovelife. Exploding the myth of their individual writing styles, the "brooding and progressive" Anderson wrote the shimmering pop hit "Single Girl", and "500" (about a little Fiat), while Berenyi maintained her confrontational rep with the bruising, brilliant "Ladykillers", then undermined it utterly with the mournful, pastoral "Papasan".

"I remember the first track I wrote for the LP was "Ladykillers"," says Berenyi "and it took me nearly three weeks to write it because I'd had such a bruising to my self-confidence as a songwriter with Split. I decided to fill the song full of every bloody corny gimmick I could think of - simpler harmonies, handclaps, sudden stops, etc, a kind of 'give 'em what they want' thing. Of course, my idea of commercialism is still a long, long way from other people's. "Ciao!" may be a lilting duet with Jarvis Cocker but it's still basically two people telling each other to f*ck off."

The combination of this freedom with a growing experience and expertise obviously took Lush onto a new creative plane. So obviously, in fact, that the pressure was immediately back on to break America. Now the touring became back-breaking and repetitive. During yet another US tour - this time with the perhaps inappropriate Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls - even the fans began to ask why the band were playing so often. The 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. "It was total overkill," says Anderson "I felt like a product being shoved down people's throats. It felt soulless."

"Everyone was sick of touring," says Berenyi "and Emma said she didn't want to go through anything like the Lovelife experience ever again. She thought we should continue without her ('Well, look at Suede') but I said no way. Things were left at that with no definite decision. Being the eternal optimist, I believe it was rocky but it would have continued, gone in a totally different direction. Then two days later we heard about Chris."

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. Not to mention the obvious fact that he was one of my closest friends ever and there was very little else I wanted to do without him, for that matter. So I guess to Emma the end was aready in sight. For me personally, it was Chris's death, and Chris's death only that finished Lush. I enjoyed being in the band immensely, I'm glad I did it. But that really was a full stop, his personality was such a major part of the band."

It should have come as no surprise that Acland's death finished Lush. Privately and professionally, in their joyful celebrations and their painful (and far more frequent) self-examinations, they were in the business of living life, really living it. Such a tragedy, the loss of their life and soul, could only serve to drain the fun from their adventures. The fun, of course, is vital to the Lush story. It was a raison d'etre and, incredibly, held them back as the UK was gripped first by grunge melancholia and then by po-faced, swaggering Britpop.

Their talent and their exuberance though had already made a difference. Particularly in the States, where their music was deeply respected and their lyrics - often moving, rigorous and earthy appraisals of themselves and their relationships, their nature and nurturing - were a motivating force for female songwriters. As well as being accidental icons (the best kind), Lush also made exceptional music: classic pop, fiery punk, soaring ambient and a modern, lilting folk. It can be harrowing - fun or fraught, these are recognisably real life experiences. But it's all worthwhile, all of it. And few bands could truthfully say that.

- Dominic Wills

At the booklet's end there is a dedication:
to the memory of Christopher Acland. Forever loved, eternally missed and always remembered with a smile.

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