Life isn’t always fair.
The first album this reviewer ever bought on compact disc was Bush’s Razorblade Suitcase, the band’s sophomore effort. The second album? No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom. That was over 20 years ago. Bush’s Gavin Rossdale was once married to No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani. It didn’t work out. Now, Rossdale, once the preternaturally handsome poster boy for the post-grunge set, is back with his band’s seventh album, primarily composed of songs seemingly about his lost love. Stefani is probably at a farmer’s market with Blake Shelton right now. Life isn’t always fair.
From the outset, you know Black and White Rainbows is going to be an uninspired set of songs. First, the title sounds as though it’s been scrawled into an angry teen’s marble composition book, with the “s” stylized like a stussy. Second, it’s 15 goddamn tracks about doomed romance are surrounded by the least exciting brand of arena rock music you’re likely to hear in 2017. Seriously, there’s a lot you can criticize the original iteration of Bush for: Rossdale’s groan worthy lyricism; the band’s intricate recreation of a loosely defined genre that captured the zeitgeist but not the spirit; the fact that they called themselves Bush? But in those first two releases, there was a texture to their sonics, a scuzzy reverb-drenched kind of angst. It would be absurd to expect the newer line-up – together since 2010 – to make the same kind of music, but it’s not easy to applaud this milquetoast, sanded down aesthetic they’ve settled into. Maroon 5 has songs with more edge than this dreck.
The album opens with its best track, “Mad Love,” a largely inoffensive ode to making up with a lover or remaining friends with an ex. It’s breezy and straightforward, the kind of song that’d sound great booming from the speakers in a Kia Sorrento commercial. Like most of the songs here, there’s the reading Rossdale wants you to take away, which tends to be vague and winsome. But it’s impossible not to picture his ex-wife as the subject of the album’s bulk. These are some of Rossdale’s cleanest, most simplistic lyrics yet, but they’re also the most cliché. A song like “Peace-S” with its spell-it-out hook makes “Machinehead” sound downright Byronic.
The threadbare platitudes would probably be a lot easier to swallow (hey, remember “Swallow”? Dope track) if the music backing them up was less boring. Kudos to Bush 2.0 for trying to distance themselves from their mid-’90s sound, but there’s something even more focus-grouped about their new approach. Deconstructed, the remix album Bush put out as their third full length release, showcased an elasticity to their sound that suggested the conventional concept of what Bush should sound like could have pretty wide parameters. What they settled on, however, couldn’t be more centrist and bland.
It’s as if someone took the worst elements of Muse, Incubus and Coldplay and slap chopped them into a wilted salad of serviceable alt-rock that barely rocks and isn’t particularly alternative. It’s just there. Tepid riffs, bland drumming and the unshakable sense that you and everyone else listening is late for a PTA meeting. The closest this experimental paradigm shift comes to feeling exciting is “The Beat of Your Heart,” a dance-y little number that stands out for little reason other than its unintentional resemblance to The Gin Blossoms.
Remember Ethan Hawke’s performance in Boyhood? The quintessential Gen X-er growing up before our eyes, throwing his cassette collection and flannels to the wayside to buy a minivan and be a Not-Shitty-Father. From the outside, it’s a heartwarming character arc. We should all be so glad Gavin Rossdale has evolved and matured and no longer makes music that would feel at home on the American Werewolf in Paris soundtrack. It’s one thing to cheer the man and his bandmates on from afar, finding themselves a new place in the modern music landscape. It’s another to expect anyone at all to actually listen to this through anything other than gritted teeth.