For their sophomore effort “Razorblade Suitcase,” Bush went into the studio with producer Steve Albini to replicate what Nirvana had done with “In Utero”– strip away the gloss and create a jagged, thorny, live-sounding record. (Not that Bush had that much gloss in the first place. Compared to “Sixteen Stone,” “Nevermind” sounds like a Michael Jackson album.) They succeeded, resulting in a(nother) string of huge radio hits and one of my personal all-time favorite albums.
Albini’s rough-edged production is a perfect fit for Bush. Drums are impossibly loud, guitars churn and scrape unpredictably, and Gavin Rossdale’s voice floats crystal-clear above the rest of the mix. His songs are a blend of straight-ahead rockers and more intricate songs filled with twists and tangents. “Swallowed” and “Greedy Fly” have to be two of the weirdest, least straightforward hit singles in rock. Ballads “Straight No Chaser” and “Bonedriven” are like skewed, dissonant reflections of the bands’ earlier signature hit “Glycerine.” As the album progesses, the mood darkens, culminating in the austere “Communicator” and the menacing “Synapse,” before closing with the more hopeful “Distant Voices” and a short reprise of “History.” There’s not a bad song to be found, all of the tracks building on “Sixteen Stone”’s strengths while simultaneously branching out into more obscure territory.
Bush took a lot of critical punishment for following in Nirvana’s footsteps, and while the kinship is undeniable, it’s also nothing new in rock music: Nirvana is indebted to the Pixies, who are indebted to the Jesus and Mary Chain, and so on. Bush’s music stands on its own despite its influences, and “Razorblade Suitcase” is their crowning acheivement, an album that perfectly captures its era yet hasn’t dulled with age.