Track By Track : Lush - Lovelife

By John A. Wilcox

Welcome to one of my all time favorite albums. Lush scratched my itch for pop/rock that was melodic, dreamy, dark, & crunchy in a way no other band has. Right now I'm going to throw it over to guitarist/vocalist Miki Berenyi to introduce this album:
Just to preface this - all opinions are mine and mine alone. Emma and Phil may completely disagree with my take on everything!
I had a beer-fueled catch-up with Pete Bartlett, Lush�s live sound engineer and Lovelife producer, recalling the summer of �95. He reckons that the advent of Britpop in the UK, and the rise of Alternative music replacing the mainstream in the US, had really changed the landscape and there was a feeling after Split that Lush needed a jump forward, to reinvent and break out of the old patterns - or it would all be over. Split certainly sold less than Spooky, and was seen as a relative failure commercially. And this was at a time when commercial success became the be-all and end-all.
In that spirit, we agreed that rather than cloaking everything in layers of effects and obscurity, we should let the songs �speak for themselves�. Go for a simpler, stripped-back production that captured some of the energy of the band�s live performance.
Pete had recorded the Kitchens Of Distinction album Cowboys And Aliens in his studio in Scotland, and we had spent a huge amount of time with him holed up on a tour bus and still loved being around him, so we knew 11 weeks in a studio wasn�t going to be a problem! Another plus, we weren�t going to go down the route of a residential studio, as we did with Split � we�d be in London and not cut off from our outside lives.
Pete recalls the hunt for the ideal studio and went to see at least a dozen. �Protocol was a nice big space. Some of the gear was a bit odd - the tape-machine heads were fucked, which I pointed out to the guy who ran the place but he wouldn�t listen and then we got to the end of the record and he goes, �Oh yeah, they are fucked aren�t they?�. Giles Hall (in-house engineer) swung it for me, though. He was so calm - knew his way around everything, and he made me feel really safe! I�d done the Kitchens album on my own but this was a big step up for me.
�4AD were great, too - didn�t bother us at all, just left us to it. We had unlimited studio time to do whatever we wanted, so we hired 13 guitar amps, 7 snare drums - it was Christmas come early for Matt Snowball (local music equipment hire). We just said to him - give us everything!"
And it was very satisfying for me that the album was done so cheap and instantly outsold
Split, which had cost a fortune. At �43K, I think it was the cheapest album 4AD ever made, which is pretty impressive for a record that got to number 8 in the UK charts and had three top-40 singles.

Track 1: Ladykillers
MB: Pete says that when he was first listening to the demos for the album, Ladykillers instantly made him think of go-go dancers - and that it was an obvious single. I had written it in a spirit of pique, I�ll admit - The criticism of Split that it was boring and wet and muddy and self-indulgent got to me and I thought fine and threw every up tempo gimmick I could think of at this one song - handclaps, little barbed �You get the picture� interjections, guitar riffs, sudden stops, snarky fuck-you lyrics and a backing vocal that gave a nod to Come Up And See Me Make Me Smile. HERE - HAVE THE FUCKING LOT!
I particularly remember the Firebird being rolled out for this one - already a break away from the chiming 12-string guitar sound we would normally begin with. Pete has made me promise that if I become terminally ill, I will give him that guitar before I kick the bucket and people start fighting over a will.
Pete says: �I�m a bass player myself, and I just wasn�t happy with the sound we were getting during the recording. Simon Raymond (Cocteau Twins) very kindly lent us his 1952 Precision bass, but warned us that it would need setting up and had shitty old strings on it. We didn�t bother, though - just plugged it in as it was and it immediately sounded fucking great! So we redid the bass on a bunch of the songs and instantly improved them.

Track 2: Heavenly Nobodies
MB: Wikipedia says: �Berenyi revealed in 2017 via�Twitter�to a fan that the track Heavenly Nobodies was about her and a friend's star-struck encounter with�Hole�frontwoman�Courtney Love. She also added that the song was not intended as a dig towards her.�
This has got a bit garbled - it�s actually a conversation I had with someone who once met Courtney and ended up in her hotel room talking till morning and it was them who was starstruck and suddenly seemed to think they were now best friends, and when they next encountered her she was wasted and more or less told the person to fuck off and it led me to think maybe it would have been better if you hadn�t met her in the first place because it seems to have kind of ruined it for you.
Pete added a lot to the more rocky guitars on Lovelife. Mine and Emma�s style of playing was much more laid-back strummy than aggressively rhythmic, and he ended up playing some of the guitar parts - like the riffs on Ladykillers. We had great fun getting the amp sounds on this one - more and more distorted and heavy - MORE, MORE! - I was suddenly in a heavy rock band!

Track 3: 500
MB: Chris used to muck about playing this song, jerking his head around and doing an impersonation of a kind of 1960�s beat drummer, Emma kept cracking up while she was playing the riff, Pete had a go on the keyboards� we were enjoying ourselves.
It mainly makes Pete think of how he had just bought a VW and was getting rid of his old Mitsubishi, which Emma decided she might buy. He had both cars parked outside, so Emma went to take it for a test drive and came back to the studio looking sheepish - she�d crashed it into the VW! Which made for an interesting conversation to the insurance company. �Yes, I�ve crashed my car into another car. Thing is, the other car is mine as well��

Track 4: I�ve Been Here Before
MB: The killer line for me in this song is the �Ooh, you and her in your sad little world� which I thought was just brilliant - conveys all the hurt and malice you can feel when you split up with someone - even if you were the one that left - and your ex starts going out with someone else.
It was great having Terry come in and play brass on the album - I�ve known him since I was about 17 - back when he used to play with The Higsons.
One of the influences of Britpop on Lovelife was in the choice of singles - all very straight poppy choices unlike, say, Desire Lines off Split. Emma would have preferred to have I�ve Been Here Before as a single. During the Lovelife tour, she would be on the tour bus playing around with a song that seemed to be developing out of the chords of the Dionne Warwick song Walk On By and felt like it was continuing the feel of I�ve Been Here Before.
When I first heard Sing-Sing�s Feels Like Summer, I remember thinking - �Oh, that�s where that song went!�

Track 5: Papasan
MB: The demo for this song is completely different to this. It was full band and had an almost crashing Valentines feel with overdriven guitars and massive drum rolls, but it wasn�t really working. It was Pete�s idea to strip it back to its core. He claims his take on it was inspired by Soft Machine�s Drop - an acoustic jazz exploration that�s about as far away from anything I would listen to as I can think. Anyway, in the end it was just me, Pete and Giles - Pete did all the guitars, I did the vocals and helped Pete with the water drops while Giles recorded everything. It occurred to us after we finished that the whole thing sounds like it was recorded in a urinal.

Track 6: Single Girl
MB: Pete: �Driving around and listening to the demo of Single Girl in my car, I instantly came up with the intro riff, which Emma was happy for me to play. I knew it was a single straight away, but you and Emma seemed almost embarrassed by the idea of commercial success and Emma kept trying to dismiss Single Girl as a B-side. I was right, though - you did Top of the Pops and next night played Bristol - there were more people outside trying to get in than saw the show!�
The video was a lot of fun (Pete recalls he lent Phil his Burns bass for the shoot). We had all our friends come along and take part and it�s fun watching that video now and going - �Oh look - it�s Maxine! There�s Kate and Liz! And Bill!� Like watching a real wedding video!

Track 7: Ciao!
MB: Originally written for Chris who claimed to want to sing on a track and then bottled it when I actually wrote him a part. When I gave Jarvis my home demo, I was told he couldn�t listen to it all the way through because he was laughing so hard at my attempt at singing the low �male� vocal. He came to the studio and had a few nips of brandy to calm his nerves, then did the whole thing in just 2 takes. He was all - �Are you sure it�s ok?�. It was so good, in fact, listening to my double-track vocal, which had already been recorded, we decided I sounded really bland and characterless next to Jarvis�s brilliant performance, so I re-recorded my vocal as a single track - loosened up and enjoyed myself a bit!
Poor Ivo - he still can�t believe that this song is on 4AD. Makes him shudder every time I remind him!

Track 8: Tralala
MB: Emma�s lyrics were inspired by the character from Last Exit To Brooklyn (although whether from the book or Jennifer Jason Leigh�s brilliant performance in the film, I can�t say).
Pete points out that we recorded a ridiculous number of songs in the 11 weeks. �Every format for each single had 3 different B-sides� it was like 28 songs or something? There was just no time - I think the Magnetic Fields cover it was just your voice - me and Giles did the rest!�
I think this was the case with Tralala in that I honestly can�t remember very much about it, and I may have been barely involved.

Track 9: Last Night
MB: I absolutely loved this song with its moody spy-theme shuffle and this was my top choice for the single that never was. When Andrew Adam was putting together the Lush lyrics book last year, he had an absolute nightmare trying to figure out the words in the talking section at the end - no one involved could remember what the dialogue was!

Track 10: Runaway
MB: Inspired by my love of the Headcoatees and their version of Heard About Him, which was a high point of their live set for me. Emma suggested we could play this live for the reunion - we had so few songs off Lovelife - but it�s a real bugger to sing and all that sustained yelling in the chorus used to wreck my voice.
The lyrics were inspired by a friend who struggled with drug addiction - I�m not a druggy person myself and I can be horribly intolerant of other people�s addictions. I�m all for having substance-induced high times, but when people spiral inward� I just see a normally brilliant person become less so. It says as much about me that I feel personally abandoned and angry that they are simply too out of it to give a shit about me or anyone else around them - rather than sympathetic that they are so troubled that they need to sedate their senses. But it does drive me crazy when this kind of self-destruction is glamourised, especially by people around them who are supposed to be their friends and seem to dine out on �hilarious stories� about their smack-addled/cocaine-fueled/alcohol-soaked fuck-ups.

Track 11: The Childcatcher
MB: I may be misremembering but I think we had already recorded this song during Split and it never made it onto the album. There was always some disagreement about the tracks that got picked and it could get a bit personal. I don�t want to open a can of worms on this issue but I think I got a bit of a bug up my arse about the song being wasted - particularly as it was so often picked out as a favourite in our live set - so I insisted it be rerecorded for Lovelife. I should�ve just let it go, really!

I had Phil read The Bloom Of Youth - a poem by Billy Childish - over the mid-section of the song, which I�ve attached. As with quite a lot of Billy�s poetry, I find it simultaneously beautiful and sad and darkly funny, and repulsive and nasty and full of lies.

Track 12: Olympia
MB: Emma�s lyrics were inspired by the Manet painting.
It was a tricky vocal and I�m not a strong singer. Back then, when it was all analog and no way to fiddle about on a screen and tweak the tuning, we just had to do 5 or 6 takes and hope we could patch together a coherent vocal from the bits. I was in the vocal booth and could hear Emma�s frustration (Pete: �I think that was fine�; Emma: �It was flat!�) and in the end they put a guitar tuner on the mixing desk and I had to sing it over and over until it registered in the right spot. Pretty much killed the whole fucking song for me, but I grudgingly get that Emma didn�t want my rubbish vocals messing up her song.
Pete reckons this is another song that got a bit overlooked due to lack of time, and listening to it again, I have to agree - the middle breakdown section with the chimes and radio tuning seems a bit uninspired. That said, the arrangement of strings, brass, flute and percussion shows we threw quite a lot at it.
In the end, the sheer number of songs we recorded was exhausting. Pete remembers that �as soon as Chris hit his last cymbal crash, he had his coat on - I�m off to the Lakes - bye! He couldn�t wait to leave. And I got the news that I was going to be a dad - by the time it came to the rough mixes, I left Giles to it - I�d had enough!�


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