Often a band is so much more than the sum of its constituent parts. Some intangible element elevates the music they produce from mediocrity to something special. Leatherface is characterised by this strange phenomenon. They are one of those bands that have that certain something that separates them from the herd, that makes them a band you cherish. And with Mush, we witness the most striking articulation of this curious secret ingredient.
That isn't to say that there's nothing noteworthy about the individual building blocks of Leatherface's music. In the early nineties, no English punk band sounded remotely like them; their guitar work on Mush had far more in common with Bad Religion than with any of their compatriots still flying the flag of punk's first wave. On the album, melody is put above attitude and aggression; lyrics tend to look inwards, or at least at parochial issues, rather than trying to make any broad-sweeping political or social statements. Then there is lead singer, Frankie Stubbs. Many attempts have been made to accurately describe the tonal quality of Stubbs' voice (most of them involve conjecture about Lemmy Kilmister, emphysema, glass chewing and sulphuric acid gargling), but suffice it to say that it is somewhat of an acquired taste. Listening to Mush, thus, hammers the point home rather quickly that Leatherface is an atypical band. Nonetheless, none of these elements in isolation is enough to make them special – or even good for that matter!
What makes them special, and what makes Mush a remarkable album, becomes apparent around the time the first chorus hits on the first track, "I Want The Moon". The band manages that which is so elusive for the vast majority of musicians – to make the listener feel something. To communicate the passion, angst and longing which fueled the creation of the song. To transport their audience to a distinct mental location, furnished with artifacts from their own lives. To, in short, produce a strain of aural nostalgia which make the emotions blaring out of the speakers pertinent to the listener a world away. I discovered this album 18 years after it was released, in a context that could scarcely be further removed from early post-Thatcher Sunderland. Yet I can count on one hand the number of songs that have made as immediate an emotive impact upon me as "Dead Industrial Atmosphere". Mush is just that sort of album.
It is very difficult to find fault with Mush. The worst that can be said is that it might take some a couple of listens before they really "get" what it is Leatherface do (and to get over the initial shock of Stubbs' vocal stylings and appreciate his diamond-in-the-rough allure). Indeed, I have encountered few who have anything patently negative to say about the album. If you have even a passing interest in anything vaguely resembling punk rock, you are doing yourself a disservice if you do not buy this album. It is a genre classic by anybody's measure.