New album shows raw tenderness

Though the band Bush fits into a wider alternative rock style and has experimented with numerous styles — such as electronic, metal and even gentler sounds — the band was never able to escape the initial grunge label it received for Sixteen Stone, and as a result, broke up last decade.

Now reunited — though with only half of the original Sixteen Stone lineup — the band released its first album in a decade, The Sea of Memories.

Thankfully, the record is more than just a rehashing of popular songs or a poor attempt to reclaim the old sound. Instead, The Sea of Memories shows Bush has grown artistically, but still has that creative spark that made its previous albums so strong.

The album opens with “The Mirror of the Signs,” a perfect representation of the new release. It’s a guitar-driven rocker that puts listeners right into the mix. The chorus picks up the energy, but the song flows right into it, with a natural progression rather than a sharp contrast.

The following track, “The Sound of Winter,” feels like a more traditional Bush song, with existential, allusion-heavy lyrics, backed by heavy percussion as seen with a melodic undercurrent provided by guitarist Chris Traynor.

There is something to be said for the lack of Nigel Pulsford, the band’s other creative force in its earlier days, and his aggressive guitar playing. All of the music on the album feels more nuanced, however, there are more layers to each track, and instead of simple pounding chords that drive songs forward, there’s just enough experimentation to make them more complex.

This isn’t an experimental album — there’s a clear thematic and musical focus — but it exists because of the experimentation and fine tuning the band is known for.

Gavin Rossdale’s talent as a vocalist and lyricist is showcased brilliantly. Unlike his recent solo album, which suffered from overproduction and a subdued vocal approach, The Sea of Memories lets him embrace his range and raw style. In “Stand Up,” he transforms his singing in the chorus to a smoother flow, while never making it seem at odds with the verses where he uses his more raw approach.

Rossdale still has his stream-of-consciousness, highly evocative wordplay, but like the instrumentation, it feels wizened. Throughout the tracks, Rossdale weaves in motifs of the sea and repetitions to take care of oneself and leave life’s problems behind, most prominently in “All My Life,” “The Afterlife” and then in the final track, “Be Still My Love.”

Bush also proves it can still craft good ballads. The fifth track, “All Night Doctors,” is a piano-driven, tender love song that picks up more instruments as it goes on, putting more emotional weight behind Rossdale’s singing. The gradual build from a quiet musing on love to a plea for passion is handled perfectly.

But that’s not to say Bush doesn’t rock, either. “Afterlife” and “Stand Up” are two fast-paced, rolling jams: the kind of alternative rock that melds energy with a more contemporary, melodic flow. Bush shows in The Sea of Memories that it’s good at ingeniously balancing the mix of hard rock and softer songs. What normally shouldn’t work — like the transition from “Afterlife” to “All Night Doctors” — instead keeps with the album’s natural progression.

The Sea of Memories isn’t perfect, however. “She’s a Stallion,” what seems set up to be the album’s most energetic song, falls completely flat in its execution. Despite a strong, guitar-focused opening, the song falls victim to uneven pacing. It’s strange to find so distinct a dud, especially since it’s placed between the rhythmic “Red Light” and the effective rock song “I Believe in You.”

With the closing song, “Be Still My Love,” Bush wraps up the album on a tender, tragic note. Bringing in the album’s many motifs and putting them into the most romantic lyrics on an album, focused on love and existentialism, Rossdale finds the right energy balance, ending not on a whimper or a bang but rather a mournful goodbye.

Beyond one complete flop of a song, The Sea of Memories is a very cohesive, strong album. It’s clear the band has grown lyrically and musically. The Sea of Memories not only brings Bush back, but shows that eight years after the split, Rossdale and company still have it.