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Drawing a line through SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, COCTEAU TWINS, c-86/SHOP ASSISTANTS and MY BLOODY VALENTINE, London’s dream-pop shoegazers LUSH were arguably the brightest penny in the pack. Spearheaded by half-Japanese/half-Hungarian Miki Berenyi, the 2-girl/2-boy dynamic worked well for several years as they morphed into a power-pop hits combo. Time was duly called with the tragic suicide of drummer Chris Acland on 17th October 1996.
Formed Camberwell in London, one could trace them back to 1987 when school friends and Alphabet Soup fanzine scribes Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson – then bassists from respective short-lived bands Bugs and Rover Girls – joined forces with Chris Acland and Meriel Barham in forming the Baby Machines. The addition of new bassist Steve Rippon meant that Emma could switch to guitar (and backing vocals), while, after an inaugural gig as LUSH at the Camden Falcon on 6th March ‘88, Barham’s departure – she would subsequently join PALE SAINTS – freed up the reluctant Miki to take up lead vocals. In effect, flame-haired Berenyi’s initial wispy shyness at the mic, and guitars turned up to the max, identified their early “surround” sound. After support slots to major signings The DARLING BUDS et al, LUSH chose to hook up with top independent imprint 4.a.d.
Long overdue, but effective nonetheless, 6-track mini-set SCAR {*7} introduced the quartet’s delicate wash of sound in October ’89; `Thoughtforms’ and `Etheriel’ all hazy guitar effects and celestial, choir-girl harmonies. Almost immediately hailed by the music press as one of the front-runners in the “shoegazing” scene, LUSH even attracted the attentions of ROBIN GUTHRIE (then of genre forebears, COCTEAU TWINS), who produced their follow-up EP, `Mad Love’ (featuring 4 cuts: `De-Luxe’, the head-spinning `Leaves Me Cold’, the MBV-esque `Downer’ and a second version of `Thoughtforms’). Further exposure – so to speak – came as all four musicians posed topless for an NME cover shot, albeit with a body-paint treatment.
From Top 60 to Top 50 status by way of `Sweetness And Light’, which opened up part-round-up set, GALA (1990) {*7}, LUSH were one of the aspiring acts on the circuit. Follow-up 7-inch, `Nothing Natural’ (from the CD-EP `Black Spring’) notched another Top 50 entry on their bed-post, whilst the pastel-shaped `For Love’ kick-started the new year inside the Top 40. An earlier deal with Reprise Records (Stateside) meant 4 a.d. could stretch out their roster, whilst LUSH themselves experienced Top 10 sales figures for the pivotal parent set, SPOOKY (1992) {*8}. Issued to a mixed critical reaction amid complaints about the suffocating GUTHRIE production, the retro/C-86 twee appeal was felt on `Stray’, `Tiny Smiles’ and `Covert’, although the record managed to spark some head-swirling moments through `Superblast!’, `Take’ and the kaleidoscopic closer, `Monochrome’.
Nevertheless, the scene which had spawned LUSH was dying on its feet – still staring at its shoes, presumably – amidst the influx of their American grunge cousins; having lost Rippon the previous October, the group took time out to reconsider their approach. Roping in former NME employee Phil King (ex-FELT, ex-SERVANTS, ex-Apple Boutique), the resultant Top 20 follow-up, SPLIT (1994) {*7}, was well received by fans, although attendant singles, Miki’s signature tune `Hypocrite’ (#52) and Emma’s lengthy `Desire Lines’ (#60), failed to break them out of the indie margins.
Finally, with the advent of Britpop, LUSH re-emerged with a more straightforward, spiky pop sound, the fey vocal affectations of old giving way to unashamed Cockney wide-girl attitude on the `Ladykillers’ single, while preceding near-Top 20 chart entry, `Single Girl’, was as breezy as anything they’d ever recorded. An accompanying album, LOVELIFE (1996) {*8}, cracked the Top 10 that spring and, although older fans might’ve mourned the haunting textures of old, the simple approach – as on third big-hitter of the year, `500 (Shake Baby Shake)’ – suited them down to the ground. Joining the Britpop fraternity via Miki’s pastiche duet with PULP’s Jarvis Cocker a la `Ciao!’, LUSH looked forward to chalking up more hits.
Japan was a favourite haunt for Miki and Co (an exclusive album TOPOLINO (1996) {*6} was issued there), but Emma was unhappy at their fresh alt-pop direction.
Yet this mini-revival in the band’s fortunes was tragically marred that October when 30-year-old Acland hung himself at his parents’ house after returning from the States and splitting with his girlfriend. As LUSH could not face working as a unit without Chris, and officially split in February 1998, freeing up Emma to pursue a career with SING-SING alongside Lisa O’Neill (ROBIN GUTHRIE’s Bella Union duly released the `Feels Like Summer’ single before they secured a 2-album deal with Alan McGee’s Poptones imprint); King would join The JESUS AND MARY CHAIN.
Over the years, LUSH had covered several songs, including `Hey Hey Helen’ (ABBA), `Fallin’ In Love’ (DENNIS WILSON), `Outdoor Miner’ and `Mannequin’ (WIRE), `Love At First Sight’ (The GIST), `I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ (The RUBINOOS), `I’d Like To Walk Around In Your Mind’ (VASHTI BUNYAN), `Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ (Lally Stott), `All This Useless Beauty’ (ELVIS COSTELLO) and `Rupert (The Bear)’ (Frank Weston & Ron Roker).
Missed by fans of both shoegazing and Britpop fraternities, LUSH announced their decision to re-form in September 2015. Berenyi, Anderson, King and ex-ELASTICA drummer Justin Welch, saw subsequent shows in London and across the Big Pond sell out within hours, convincing the group that a new release might re-kindle interest. Edamame Records would unfetter the Daniel Hunt/Jim Abbiss-produced download single, `Out Of Control’ (in February 2016), a track that also appeared on a special 4-track vinyl/CD EP – alongside `Lost Boy’, `Burnham Beeches’ and `Rosebud’ – that recalled their early pastoral-pop days rather than that of their mid-90s time.
September 2018 saw a change of plan when Miki and Justin roped in bassist Michael Conroy (ex-MODERN ENGLISH) and guitarist/keyboardist Kevin McKillop (ex-MOOSE) – Miki’s partner – to form PIROSHKA. By the following February, the Bella Union-endorsed BRICKBAT (2019) {*7} found it tough amongst the re-empowered influx of post-Britpop/shoegaze reunions. Despite any pre-misconceptions about the ageing indie supergroup, there were several resolute reviews for the album. The likes of opener, `This Must Be Bedlam’, `Never Enough’, `Everlastingly Yours’ and the poignantly-titled `What’s Next?’, had each their own candid views of the world, though not enough collective clout for the quartet to duly fade into the annuls of history.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016-Jun2020

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