When I started assembling my list of “essential” albums to seek out on vinyl, Lush’s Gala was one on the first entries I added to it. The 1990 debut (actually a compilation of singles and the Scar “mini-LP”) by the shoegaze scenesters possesses all the qualities I look for in a record — a consistently engaging experience where I can just slap it on the turntable and let it play all the way through. The dreamy mix of ethereal vocals, guitar jangle, and soft-edged distortion effects is chill-out music at its most sublime.
Like a lot bands from that era, I originally gave Lush a pass in favor of more aggressive (and obnoxious) fare better suited to my snarling punk persona. As the Nineties wore on and my reflexive dislike of anything remotely “art school” receded into the stuff of embarrassing memories, I grew to love the band. Both their music and their cover imagery (crafted by Vaughn Oliver, the creator of the 4AD’s distinctive brand aesthetic) have come to symbolize that era in my head, even if I was as outsider looking in (and shaking my fist) as it unfolded.
I haven’t lost sleep regretting the person I was back then, but I freely admit that my (inscrutable in hindsight) stances walled me off from a lot of stuff that would’ve been right up my alley. Lush never earned my ire like the grunge scene or the Pixies fans did, but they were one of the bands Young Angry Andrew (or technically “Otto”) associated with those poetry-huffing snobs in the Wit’s End Cafe who thought they were so superior to us scruffy punk rock types and they can all eat my fuck and c’mon, Leech, let’s throw a chair off the Wheatley Hall balcony and watch it smash to bits on the field below fuck yeah that’s the shit.
Eventually — hopefully — that myopic tribalist rage falls away or gets sanded down into something a little less, well, stupid and you begin to reassess the objects of irrational disdain and possibly develop a genuine appreciation for a few of them. Lush was one of those things for me, to the point where it’s difficult to envision a time when that wasn’t the case.
As my favorite Lush release and one of my favorite albums, full-stop, Gala should’ve been up there with Entertainment and Can’t Stand the Rezillos in the “records I bought as soon as they occurred to me” category, but finding a remotely affordable copy was nigh impossible. It’s been a recurring problem with tracking down certain favorite LP’s — my “golden years” just happened to take place during the “death” of vinyl and the ascension of compact discs as the One True Format.
What did get released on record during the late Eighties and early Nineties was restricted to smaller print runs, usually aimed at foreign markets. The hands those copies made it into aren’t ones willing to let them go easily, creating a seller’s market of the most infuriating variety — and that’s before my “you’re fucking kidding me” obstinacy kicks enters the equation.
After a few months of fruitlessly sniffing around for a reasonably priced cop of Gala in non-shit condition, I stumbled across a “related items” listing for Ciao! The Best of Lush.
Originally released in 2001, the compilation was given the double LP treatment (on red vinyl) for a limited run in 2015. While the notion of “greatest hits” collections for post-1990 bands hits me square in the fleeting mortality cortex, the twenty buck asking price and featured material were able to override any pangs of existential dread on my part.
The set follows a similar “reverse chronology” model as The Story of the Clash, starting with the band’s baffling attempts at riding the Britpop craze and working back to their shoegaze glory daze. Sides three and four feature tracks pulled from both Gala and its 1992 follow-up Spooky (along with “When I Die” from 1994′s Split), capturing the band at their dreampop peak.
It’s not the album I was looking for but, in some ways, it’s even better — especially for some lazy afternoon lounging and listening from the comfort of a cushy sofa.