Every rock generation has a band that critics hate and music buyers love.

Right now, it's Bush. Derided as a cheap Nirvana knock-off, Bush sold more than 4 million copies of its debut album in the United States and is being counted on by a prayerful music industry to salvage a bad business year for rock 'n' roll.So it's no surprise that the only time easy-going lead singer Gavin Rossdale's voice hardens during an interview is when the criticism is brought up.

"I couldn't give a toss about one critic," said Rossdale, whose band's name is partly taken from the Shepherds Bush neighborhood in London that is home.

Odd that it took a band from England to be among the most successful purveyors of the Seattle sound: droning, doomsday vocals, surging guitars and quick-shifting dynamics. Many critics believe Bush moved too easily into a void left by Kurt Cobain's death.

A Rolling Stone cover story on the band pictures Rossdale as a pinup model, with shirt off and a come-hither look, behind a headline that asks, "Why won't anyone take Gavin Rossdale seriously?" Rossdale hung the cover on his wall at home, removing the offending headline.

Rossdale, guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge certainly don't try to hide from their tormentors.

Bush even took the cheeky step of hiring Steve Albini to produce its new album, "Razorblade Suitcase." Albini is most remembered for his production of Nirvana's "In Utero" album.

"If they think that Steve Albini is defined by one two-week period out of a 15-year career, then obviously they don't know what they're talking about," Rossdale said. "Which is ironic, don't you think?"

Albini's endorsement of Bush's work is "the kind of confirmation I like - from somebody I respect who's involved, not someone with a laptop," he said.

Most critics can't stand a band that becomes popular and are jealous of success, he said.

Album sales prove that Bush's music communicates with people in many different ways, said Rossdale, as the band was taking a break in rehearsals for a "Saturday Night Live" appearance.

"It can't just be for my hairstyle or cheekbones or something like that," he said.

Rossdale also thinks many in the music business don't respect himbecause - get this - he's a nice guy.

"It would be so much easier to be really rude to people, be a real (jerk), and the people will think that there's something deep and dark and mystical about you," he said. "And no one bothers to see the correlation with the music."

Rather than take a long vacation after touring in support of their first album, Bush decided to quickly get back in the studio to make a follow-up. Band members didn't want to dissipate the energy and togetherness that comes from being on the road.

Some of the songs, such as the current hit "Swallowed," were written while on the road. But Rossdale wrote most of the songs in a month under deadline pressure and not particularly pleasant surroundings.

"I was trying to write songs while my life was falling apart," he said. "While my longtime girlfriend of five years was leaving and packing in one room, I was writing in the other room."

Perhaps that explains why Rossdale's stream-of-consciousness lyrics sound so desolate: "I miss the one that I love a lot," and "douse my head in flames" are two of the snippets that float by.

The band initially planned to release the album in early 1997, but made a strategic decision to get it into stores before Christmas, especially after U2's planned new album was pushed into next year.

Music retailers were grateful. Many of the rock 'n' roll discs they were counting on as big sellers this season - Pearl Jam, R.E.M., John Mellencamp, Hootie & the Blowfish - have disappointed them.

Bush at least started out strong. In its first week of sales just before Thanksgiving, "Razorblade Suitcase" sold 294,000 copies in the United States, according to Soundscan. That was enough to make it debut at No. 1 on Billboard's top-album chart.

While Rossdale is prone to moan about the negative fallout from mega-success - he's never home, and it may have cost him the relationship with his girlfriend - Rossdale certainly wouldn't want to turn back the clock.

He was struck by his different life during his trip to New York City, when he ordered a room service meal at a posh hotel.

"The breakfast I had the other day cost more than I used to get for a week on welfare," he said.