For casual fans of Bush — those that maybe remember their few big radio hits from the 90s — The Art of Survival probably feels like an unexpected turn away from alternative music in favor of something heavier and darker musically.
Frontman Gavin Rossdale acknowledged in an interview that he had intentionally taken the band in this direction for their 2020 release The Kingdom and enjoyed it so much, he wanted to continue with the sound going forward. “I think I had so much fun to make it heavy that I just stayed heavy and stayed with heavy tuning and strong riffs — stuff [that will go over well at] festivals,” he said. “I just like it to be exciting and really driving. So it’s similar to the last one. If you liked the last one, that level of heavy, then it’s like that.”
That being said, while the sound does represent a huge departure from the Bush of the 90s, Rossdale’s songwriting from a lyrical perspective is pretty recognizable in some places on the album. The opening track, and the strongest on the record, Heavy is the Ocean, illustrates his affinity for metaphor and imagery in his writing, using the relentless strength of the ocean to depict how difficult but inescapable it is to acknowledge feelings for someone. If it weren’t for the driving drums and big guitar solo, lyrics like “All the time/You’re in me like the waves crash all in white/In light/A silver blue that shines across tonight” might feel like a generic pop song, but this is an instance where Rossdale’s raspy vocals combine with the harder sound to make a heartfelt song still feel masculine.
The flip side of that coin is Creatures of the Fire, a song that, as a fan of sappy emo music, I truly want to enjoy. In the context of the album though, it feels like a meek, almost comically sentimental attempt at recapturing the success of Glycerine. It plays like a song that belongs in an early 2000s rom-com starring Tom Hanks, which is not to say it is bad, but it just doesn’t make any sense sonically with the rest of what the album has to offer.
It does make sense, however, that after 30 years as a band, Bush would want to branch out and that their sound would evolve in this time. I’m just not convinced that it is enough to gain them any new fans and might not appeal to those looking for the nostalgia of Sixteen Stone or Razorblade Suitcase.