Sharps & Flats is a daily music review in Salon Magazine

Published December 9, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

A new Bush release has hit the decks, and if you listen closely, you can doubtless hear the familiar squall of derisive snorts drifting westward across the Atlantic. You can also hear a vast, heaving sigh rising up over the North American continent, as our domestic rock critics knit their brows and try to divine, once again as ever, what everybody else here is going to say about a record -- so that they can be the first to say something similar, but slightly more clever.

Some sly dog among them is bound to be the first out of the gate in saying that "Deconstructed" is actually pretty good as far as the remixes go -- that the DJs here have fashioned a pretty decently worthwhile album out of scraps of lousy Bush songs. Some tricky devil is sure to note the album's title and fashion a disposable pop postmodernist argument around it, hoisting once more the half-sound premise that musicians in the late '90s produce the best art not by making good records, but by shuffling the recycled scraps of lousy ones.

Well, the remixes really are pretty good. There are the usual wacky steamrollings, with heedless 808 knob-twirling and forced breakbeats and all that. The Lhasa Fever mix of "Everything Zen," for example, does pretty much what it likes, piling on some Bush samples as an afterthought. That makes for a competent techno track overlaid with annoying non sequiturs -- which isn't the point here. The challenge facing these DJs was to start with a slightly weird pool of source material and to have their mixes come out sounding natural -- or, for a real show of expertise, inevitable.

After all, the difference between the expert and the ordinary techno DJ isn't just in the flash that he or she can call up. It's also a matter of restraint. As with any other type of musician -- or with writers, or painters, or name-your-poison -- the surest sign that one's dealing with a master is in a sense of hidden reserves that the work gives off -- the sense that the author still has half a wallop left to throw when the time comes to throw it.

The contributions from Fabio Paras, Mekon and Tricky all have that quality to some degree. Paras' "Personal Holloway" sets up a simple drum-kit groove and spices it just barely enough with hi-hat and timbale accents, overlaying just the right amount of vocals and smudgy rhythm guitar to pull the mix together into a song. Mekon's "Bonedriven" sounds like a sparse, tense Shriekback cut, and pulls the vocals into full collaboration with the mix. It's a show of some finesse. But Tricky wins the golden spliff on that account for his production work on "In a Lonely Place," first heard on the soundtrack to "The Crow II: City of Angels." It's a stark, shadowy doomscape that ennobles the band's sound and manages to bring out qualities of depth and reverie in singer Gavin Rossdale's voice where one generally only hears a certain wide-screen petulance and an impulse toward calling for tissues and a string section. If all were well in the world, Bush would've just found their new full-time producer. As it is, they've probably just released their best album -- which, as cautious as I might be about giving undue props to the idea, is a definite score for the almost-kinda-true "shuffling scraps" theorem.

By Gavin McNett

Gavin McNett is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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