Perhaps unsurprisingly, but definitely shortsightedly, Lush’s 1994 album Split was not met with widespread acclaim. “With songs about death, infidelity, and neglect, Split was a dark, introspective album that jarred with the beginning of the Britpop party.” Yet despite its unceremonious beginnings, the album is considered by many a thematic mainstay of 90s unsteady gait and uneven footing in direct juxtaposition to the 80s overtly, if ungainly, surefootedness. It was a time of mental upheaval and social expansion. It was also the birthplace of the delirious song “Desire Lines“, a darkly mesmerizing masterpiece from beginning to end (pleasure crescendo included). With its swirly sounds awash in muscular rave-waving rifts, and a heated ebb and floe, one could be forgiven for burying their head within that sweet brilliance and drinking in such exquisite beauty.
“It’s raining in this room
And it’s so hot outside this room
I don’t know no one here
I don’t want to be here in this room”
Album Split would be a breach birth, fraught with issues from the start. Lush chose to work with producer Mike Hedges because they “loved” his work on Sulk by The Associates, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Seventeen Seconds by The Cure, according to lead singer and guitarist Miki Berenyi. They first recorded at Rockfield in Wales and then mixed at Hedges’s house in France, but as bassist Phil King remembered it, the end product “sounded as flat as a pancake, no dynamics at all’. so they finally decided to have the entire album remixed by Alan Moulder because he had already worked with My Bloody Valentine (Loveless) and Ride (Nowhere). Berenyi’s verdict was positive, “Alan was brilliant.” Moulder had produced and would go on to produce a prodigious number of equally amazing albums including Curve’s Doppelgänger, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Interpol’s Interpol, and U2’s Pop.
Though they would be bracketed with the shoegazing scene, they had a distinct charisma. Neither experimental like Slowdive nor besotted with classic rock like Ride, they wrote fantastic pop songs. Their name suggested the luxuriant swirl of their records, while actually repurposing a disparaging term for a heavy drinker. Their oeuvre of music is unquestionably gorgeous, with this particular album brilliantly bridging the gap between their earlier full-stop shimmery wall-of-sound and more radio-friendly pop accessibility.
Officially, Lush broke up in February 1998, when they issued a statement as a courtesy to their fans. In reality, they were done the minute they heard that their drummer, Chris Acland, had killed himself on 17 October 1996. “I didn’t even want the publicity of splitting up,” Berenyi said. “I thought: isn’t it fucking obvious? We knew it was over. Fuck the rest of the world. I just retreated completely.” It was a shocking conclusion for an intensely likable band that always looked as if they were having fun even when they weren’t (often due to ignorant sexist posturing).
“We hold parties in our sleep
We fill ourselves up in our sleep
And I’ll heal you when you’re ill
Though it’s hard keeping still in our sleep“
It’s dismaying to learn that Berenyi and Emma Anderson (vocals, guitar) fell out for several years after Acland’s death because much of Lush’s appeal stemmed from their tight, if sometimes tense, friendship and simpatico songwriting. They met at Queen’s College in Westminster when they were 14, both misfits in an environment of privilege. “I think we were both quite isolated in our homes,” Berenyi said. “It was like: ‘You’re weird, and I’m weird, too.’ We could trust each other.” The two girls wrote a fanzine specializing in gothic rock and rude jokes and played bass in other people’s bands. After leaving school and meeting drummer Acland at North London Polytechnic (Miki briefly dated him at the time), they decided to start their own group, originally called the Baby Machines after a line in the Siouxsie and the Banshees song “Arabian Knights“. Original bassist Steve Rippon would be replaced by Phil King in 1991, later known for his extensive work with The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Sadly, though the band briefly reformed from 2015-2016, they again are no more. Though they blessedly leave behind a gorgeous catalog and a true legacy to 90s shoegaze that achingly deserves to be thoroughly and deeply explored and enjoyed.
“Pries the hair out of her mouth
Whilst the circus is heading south
While we search in the sand, don’t ask them to understand
Why they cover up their hands
And their mouths“