Institute. A simple word and yet one whose pronunciation neatly sums up Gavin Rossdale’s musical predicament. You see, the Brits of his homeland say “Insti-choot”, but the Yanks say “Insti-toot”, and never the twain shall meet. Similarly, Rossdale’s hiatal band Bush – villified in Blighty, adored by Uncle Sam, with absolutely no chance of an entente cordiale being struck.
So what is a man to do? Well, when you’ve sold 14 million albums – most of them across The Pond – you should know which side your bread’s buttered on and so it comes as no surprise that Rossdale’s new band are a heckuva lot closer-sounding to his old band than to Blur (for example). Which, of course, means that Institute will be pretty much ignored in Britain. Which is a shame. Because their debut rocks.
In fact, Distort Yourself may well be Mr Gwen Stefani‘s best album since 1994’s breakthrough Sixteen Stone. Dispensing with the overly-affected attempts at credibility that characterised the Steve Albini-produced Razorblade Suitcase; or the flirtation with electronica that occasionally worked wonders on Bush’s later efforts; Distort Yourself heads back to no-nonsense, in-your-face yet melodically memorable territory, but adds noticeably more aggression into the mix courtesy of Helmet men Page Hamilton and Chris Traynor on production and guitar duties, respectively.
Bullet-Proof Skin is a fine opener, with a chunky, insistent guitar riff holding things together in preparation for an equally substantial but friendly chorus. The following number, When Animals Attack, is even better with a high-pitched, careering guitar line to start, which then cleverly takes a back seat during the verses in order for the bass to lead the charge. It’s an under-utilised trick in rock music but one that Institute have got down to a fine art.
From here on there is consistent quality, with highlights including Come On Over (where a spacious, shoegazing intro gives way to very Helmet-like, slowed-down riffing); Seventh Wave (featuring a stop-start rhythm and machinery-like guitar effects; and Save The Robots (which anthemically builds from swathes of oceansize guitar).
Distort Yourself may not win a prize for originality, but then again it’s hardly lagging behind most of the opposition where that characteristic is concerned. Rossdale makes music that is heavy enough to appeal to those who like aggression through their headphones, yet is sufficiently tuneful for said listeners to sing-along at the same time. I think that’s what they call being astute. Or should that be “as-toot”?