Listen Up: Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Zen X Four DVD\r\n(Kirtland Records)

By Justin Press

If nothing else, the ’90s alt-rock radio band Bush was a way for telegenic frontman Gavin Rossdale to plaster his mug on anything that stayed stationary for longer than a couple of seconds. Now, 900 years later, and Mr. Gwen Stefani is still making sure you know how good-looking he is: Zen X Four, a recently released DVD of the band on Dallas-based Kirtland Records, is pretty much just a sales pitch for Bush’s back catalog. The glorified tv commercial stars Rossdale’s cheekbones, leather chokers, and his ability to strum a Strat in the densest of forests.

A majority of the DVD is made up of videos from the band’s 1994 debut c.d., Sixteen Stone, and they simply result in a so-so sequence of rudimentary, ambiguous art-house montages occasionally visited by slightly out-of-focus close-ups of Rossdale’s beatific visage. The element of confusion is presumably an attempt to whitewash the paint-by-numbers grunge that Bush pilfered from Nirvana and a slew of other Northwestern rock outfits. The trick doesn’t work.

But a funny thing happened when the millenium arrived and we started tuning out Gavin and the boys: They kept making music and music videos — and some of the post-Sixteen Stone ones on Zen aren’t half bad. At this point, the group’s shtick was sort of coming into its own, primarily through the addition of industrial beats to the music and, to the videos, textured narratives. With spoken dialogue and an X-Files-ish plot involving murder and angel-winged humanoids, the “Greedy Fly” vid functions as a well-orchestrated short. Equally decent is the video for “The Chemicals Between Us,” which goes from gutter-bleak darkness to bright, Eastern-ish epiphany nearly seamlessly. The only problem is musical — while Rossdale certainly has a model’s good looks, he also has a stereotypical model’s brain. In the song, when he reaches into his bag of tricks to produce a profound statement, all he comes up with is cliché.

The closer, “Letting the Cables Sleep” — about being in love with a deaf person (or something) — nails home the fact that Bush is about Rossdale and Rossdale only. Other than a glancing shot of the other three members somewhere in the middle of the DVD, you’d think the band was a one-man circus. The vid starts out coherently enough, with an underfed Rossdale getting it on with a hot deaf girl, but confusion soon asserts itself. The video could be an advertisement for black trench coats or an after-school special about the rigors of sign language for all we know.

Though Bush had its time and place, and some of the band’s songs have some heft, Rossdale and company — like Duran Duran before them — were a video version of true rock ’n’ roll. They weren’t dangerous or original enough to breach respectability, but they were too pretty to be ignored. Simply put, Zen X Four is a one-time watch for people who may want to recall what they were doing in the late-’90s. (The accompanying audio c.d. is basically a live version of the band’s debut disc.) Bush is a reminder that no matter what you look like, this business we’re all part of is music, and the music still makes or breaks a band. The rest is as ephemeral as candy.

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