Bush: Zen X Four [DVD]

[20 October 2005]

By Mike Schiller

In a way, Bush was the quintessential late-period grunge band. Gavin Rossdale was the lead singer, who sang like Kurt Cobain (only prettier) and looked like Eddie Vedder (only prettier). Nigel Pulsford was the enigmatic guitarist whose guitars were always set on overdrive, even on the slow songs, and he had a shaved head. This made him the artsy one, I think. Dave Parsons provided thunderous, easy to ignore bass, and Robin Goodridge did a fine job pounding the skins, though his most famous attribute (early on, anyway) was his eerie resemblance to Rossdale (which may have been the result of their identical haircuts). Put together, they were a record company’s wet dream, practically a grunge boy band for their good looks and easy-to-swallow hooks, the perfect band to pick up the flannel-clad masses eight mournful months after Cobain ended his all-too-short life.

And boy, did they succeed.

Sixteen Stone came out, it went six times platinum, and the rest is history. Bush would never replicate the success they would have with that disc, given that their explosion onto the scene was one of the most fortuitous cases of right place, right time, right sound (and damn, he’s hot) in rock music history. Still, they sold a pile of albums, and anyone who went near a radio in the mid-‘90s will recognize the sound of Bush. Given the recent wave of nostalgia creep, evidently it would seem that now is the best time to revisit the mid-‘90s, and lo and behold, Zen X Four has appeared, intent in allowing the children of grunge to do just that.

Zen X Four is an odd little beast, right down to its title. I mean, all right, Bush’s first hit was “Everything Zen”, they once had to append an ‘X’ to their name in Canada to avoid conflicting band names, and they created four albums. That’s all I’ve got. It’s a few random words culled together from their history. And unfortunately, that slapdash title is entirely indicative of the product within.

The DVD portion of the release contains eleven videos, which are the exact same videos that were released on the 1994//1999 DVD six years ago. Not only does that mean that this particular videography completely excludes Bush’s most recent album Garden State, but it also makes the same apparently arbitrary exclusions in Bush’s early catalogue that the previous DVD did—namely, Razorblade Suitcase-era videos like “Mouth”, “Personal Holloway”, and “Bonedriven”. Granted, I’m no defender of the abomination that is Razorblade Suitcase, but these videos are the kinds of little-seen treasures that are going to draw the fans, videos that generally didn’t get much (if any) MTV play. Instead, we get the videos that we’ve already seen a million times, including all five videos from Sixteen Stone.

The CD portion of Zen X Four doesn’t fare much better as a snapshot of the Bush live experience. In fact, I probably couldn’t have come up with a better argument against seeing Bush in a live setting than what this CD lays out. The first three tracks are acoustic versions of “Comedown”, “Glycerine”, and “Everything Zen”, and they feature sloppy guitars (apparently played by someone who hasn’t learned to strum upward yet) and out of tune vocals that crack on a regular basis. Maximum enjoyment can be attained from these tracks by singing loudly over them. Of a particularly head-scratching nature is the “acoustic” take on “Everything Zen”, which actually features distorted electric guitars. Apparently, someone thought that “acoustic” meant “without a drummer”. The electric portion of the disc doesn’t fare all that much better, offering little more than sloppier versions of the studio tracks, tracks that somehow lose their luster in a raw, live setting. The track list for the live recording is entirely made up of songs from Sixteen Stone, with three of the six electric tunes actually repeating songs that had already appeared on the disc in acoustic form. Again, it’s sloppily compiled, not to mention more than a slight bit difficult to listen to.

The point of Zen X Four is not hard to see—it’s a cash grab. There are no widely available Bush DVDs yet, so putting one together in the hopes of tapping a largely untapped resource is not a bad idea. The videos themselves aren’t bad, either, further cementing Bush’s place as a singles band more than an album band, and allowing for some visual portrayals that neither particularly titillate (though the peephole-cam of “Comedown” is kind of fun) nor embarrass, save the over-serious, “gritty” sci-fi movie take on “Greedy Fly”, which has not aged well in its relatively short existence. Remember Gavin as a bigass fly? Yeah. It’s bad.

Still, with hardly any extras to speak of save a couple of under-ten-minute documentary bits about the release of The Science of Things and the Chemicals Between Us video—no, we don’t even get a 5.1 channel bone thrown our way—Zen X Four is bound to leave a bad taste in the mouth of any Bush fan. Surely another DVD will come along someday and provide a proper cap or synopsis-thus-far, as the case may be, on Bush’s career. Until then, well… have you heard the Institute record?

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bush-zenxfour/