25 Years Ago: Lush Finally Release a Full-Length Album with ‘Spooky’
It’s weird to think of Spooky as Lush’s debut album. Not with the amount of music the band released in the years before.
But, technically, it’s true. The London shoegazers hadn’t made a full-length studio release until Spooky came out in the U.K. on Jan. 27, 1992. Instead, Lush had introduced itself with a 1989 mini-album, Scar, followed by two EPs in 1990. Gala collected the material from those projects for a full-length compilation to suit EP-averse markets (such as the U.S.), and that was followed by yet another EP in 1991.
Because of that, Spooky is a more confident-sounding album than most debuts. By this point, the quartet – singer-guitarist Miki Berenyi, guitarist-singer Emma Anderson, drummer Chris Acland, then-new bassist Phil King – had honed its sound not just through playing live, but also via recording sessions.
The members didn’t even need to hope for a happy accident in a producer for the first full-length LP. Lush had already worked with Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) on the Mad Love EP and were certain that he’d be the right match for the band’s ethereal voices and tangled guitars. When Spooky came out, there was debate among critics about how much Guthrie overtook Lush’s aesthetic.
“It is very artificial sounding because that’s what Robin does,” Anderson told Noisey. “If you want Robin Guthrie to produce your record it’s going to sound along those lines. It’s not going to sound like Steve Albini. … At the time in the press we were criticized that he swamped us with his effects, but I like how it sounds outer-spacey. There are obviously guitars, but the effects he used made them sound like synths.”
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The admiration didn’t necessarily cut both ways. After completing his production work on Spooky, Guthrie took a swipe at the band via the music press, saying that Lush’s ideas were “so far ahead of your capabilities.” Anderson said that, although band member Berenyi thought Guthrie had a point, she was upset because he was distancing himself from taking any responsibility for his part in the album. Emma also blamed the musician’s drug use for his skewed view of the sessions.
In spite of Guthrie’s comments and band self-loathing and the mixed reviews to which it was released, Spooky performed well in the U.K., hitting No. 7 on the charts. It since has become a fan favorite for its echo-drenched mood and layered sonics that inspire listeners to strap on some headphones. Anderson claimed it’s her favorite, too.
“It’s very weird sounding,” she said. “And I think the songs we wrote were very good. There is a light-heartedness to it that I really like, which maybe we’d lost a little on [1994 follow-up] Split, which is a more serious record and some of the lyrics are very dark.”
Another person who took to Spooky was alternative rock hero Perry Farrell, who said Lush made “music to soothe the savage beast.” He personally invited the band to become part of the second Lollapalooza tour, bringing Lush’s music to an American audience mostly unfamiliar with it.
“When we were first offered it, we were like, ‘Oh my God! We’re gonna die a death on this tour with all of these rock bands and Ice Cube. They’re gonna hate us’,” Anderson said. “But yeah, it was really, really good. I think we were the only women on the bill too. It was fun and it wasn’t pressurized."
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