It should come as no great surprise that Institute, Gavin Rossdale's first band since breaking up Bush, sounds a whole lot like Bush. Rossdale wasn't just the frontman, he was the songwriter and architect of their sound, an Englishman enthralled with American grunge who was at first taken for a musical carpetbagger, but as the '90s rolled on, it became apparent that he was one of the few post-grunge rockers to really, truly believe in this stuff. As all the American grungesters abandoned the sound, Rossdale stuck with it, sometimes bringing in fashionable electronic beats as he did on Bush's final album, 2001's Golden State, but pretty much sticking to the same sound that he developed on Sixteen Stone. Although he'd been away for about five years -- during which time such odious neo-grunge bands as Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd appeared, both proving that Bush, like their American commercial grunge counterparts Stone Temple Pilots, were dealt with far too harshly at the peak of their success -- Rossdale didn't change much in his time out of the spotlight, and in a way he benefits from not being in the glare of the spotlight, since Institute's debut album, Distort Yourself, feels fresher than the last Bush album. It does help that Rossdale has joined forces with fellow '90s alt-metal survivor Page Hamilton, who sharpens the production with the precision he brought to Helmet, even if Institute never sounds as tightly wound or brutal as that fairly cerebral art-metal band. Nevertheless, Hamilton's approach to recording means that Distort Yourself is heavier and harder than any Bush album, even the Steve Albini-produced Razorblade Suitcase, yet it's also cleaner and sleeker; it cuts like a scalpel, not a dull knife. While Rossdale still falls prey to some embarrassing lyrical turns here and there -- the very title of "When Animals Attack" dredges up unfortunate memories of Fox's schlock nature exploitation TV special of the same name, while the sincerely crooned chorus of "this boombox needs batteries" is just mildly bewildering -- his songs are not only sturdy, it's his most consistent set of tunes since the heyday of Bush. And try as you may, it's hard not to compare Institute to Bush, since it's not only from the same writer/guitarist/singer, but because Rossdale's aesthetic has not changed over the last ten years; he remains doggedly faithful to grunge-inspired hard rock. He may not have changed his perspective, but changing his band and hiring a new, sympathetic producer has indeed slapped a fresh coat of paint on his signature sound, so Distort Yourself sounds livelier than anything he's done since Razorblade Suitcase. Not that it sounds hip, or even particularly relevant to the sound of 2005, but that doesn't matter -- Rossdale is carrying along as if nothing has changed, staying true to his vision, and those who have stuck with him will find Institute a nice revitalization for the ever-earnest post-grunge icon.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine