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Husker don’t… but that’s not a bad thing or where Bob Mould went next… March 1, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Music.
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There aren’t many journey’s in music more interesting and strange than that which Bob Mould has taken. From member of Husker Dü and purveyor of melodic but abrasive hardcore punk (US style, of course) to enormously popular (in Washington DC, of course) purveyor of gay disco his career rather than straddling categories tends to demolish them. And that’s a good good thing, at least in my book.

He comes to mind since he’s been fairly busy over the last couple of years. I noted at Christmas how his joint album with dance DJ/producer/artist Richard Morel “Blowoff” was one of my favourites. And now he has a new solo album out. We’ll get to that in a minute.

There are some musicians who become a part of ones background noise as it were and Mould has been there for most of the time I’ve been listening to music. A close friend of mine had Zen Arcade by Husker Dü way back when. A double album! By hardcore punks! With songs about Hare Krishna’s! For someone like me, than and now still in thrall to the power of the riff, songs like “Turn on the News” had a sort of metal-like edge combined with a punk like speed that seemed almost to be a complementary but entirely different path to that taken by Metallica and the 1980s wave of metal, and a hell of lot more authentic and lot less pompous. But Turn on the News was sort of the outer limits of their experimentation in that vein (although Real World came close). Instead they went in a direction on albums like Candy Apple Grey (for my money their last great album, and their first on major label Warners) which arguably seemed to be a precursor of early to mid-1990s alternative, in particular carving out a space that Nirvana and R.E.M. would later inhabit with tinges of folk, metal, punk. They weren’t the only ones. The Replacements – gone but not forgotten – did something very similar (who else would cover Black Diamond by Kiss so effectively) but fuelled by booze and drugs they became the ultimate train wreck – and I’m still undecided whether I prefer Don’t Tell A Soul from their later ‘mature’ phase or the rickety and shambolic Let it Be from earlier on. Or perhaps I can simply like both more or less equally…

I always remember the heavily detailed imagery of Husker Dü album covers, photographs, installation like pieces, shattered glass. This was music which sought to portray something slightly different from the predictable nostrums of hardcore (although in fairness when I think of Bad Brains I also think of another band trying to evade that deadening sense of predictability that seeped into the genre – best exemplified in all it’s strengths and weaknesses on the soundtrack to Repo Man). Although their ‘logo’ always seemed to me to belong to that visual imagery drawn in part from the darker aspects of modernism that hardcore punk oddly enough seemed to love. And there were another two aspects to them. Firstly they were depressing but melodic (I defy anyone not to sing along to “Books about UFO’s” from New Day Rising, okay, I don’t, but you get my drift). Oh yeah. Really depressing. Their not quite a bid to reach the mainstream Candy Apple Grey was bleak.

Robert Christgau reviewed it as follows:

Grant Hart breaks up with the love of his life, Bob Mould can’t shake off a bad trip, and hand in hand they sell out to the big bad major with the most disconsolate record of their never exactly cheerful career. Of course, between the swelling melodies that are supposed to give them pop accessibility and an attention to recorded sound that does some justice to their humongous musical details, the overall effect is more inspirational than depressing–this is the album that combines the supersonic soar of Flip Your Wig with the full-grown vision of New Day Rising. As for pop accessibility, we shall see.

Their next album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, was bleaker still. Pop accessibility didn’t result in pop sales. And then they broke up.

Then there was the fact that Mould was gay. They didn’t shout it from the rooftops, but it wasn’t exactly a secret. Grant Hart was also gay. But their sexuality didn’t infuse the music, although lyrically it was dealt with obliquely. And that was pretty cool. To hear young gay men making drop dead brilliant guitar music was in its own way pretty ground breaking. That the emotions conveyed by the lyrics were both particular and universal was instructive.

And this led to a political, although non party political, aspect to their music (indeed in a fortuitous coincidence the theme music to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show was composed by Bob Mould).

Mould (what a great name) went onto catch the Nirvana-wave with the well regarded Sugar whose first album was rather fine and whose second was a sort of pro forma exercise. In the wasteland that I’m now beginning to think the 1990s was he dropped largely from sight and my musical radar.

All things electronic and keyboard are of interest to me, so I was fairly enthusiastic when he returned with Body of Song three or four years ago. Now, it wasn’t quite the old days and I’m never fond of vocoder-treated vocals, but… it sort of worked. Even better – to my mind – was the joint album with Morel under the moniker Blowoff… Dancey and atmospheric and every once in a while a reprise of the original Husker Dü guitar snarl to remind us that the master had lost none of his powers. I’m not sure what elements of his original base make of this – in some places my jaw dropped simply because it is so different from his original home, but in a good way. It’s energetic and amiable. And there are melodies aplenty.

I sort of admire his ability to keep moving forward. Part of that might be that he appears to have come out fully… probably as well… (although on one clip from a live show he said ‘I’m no longer angry… I got rid of the dog!’) and accepted the many facets of his creative abilities. But who knows? Maybe it’s as simple as the idea that at 47 he’s at the height of his creative powers. I hope so.

There’s a new album out, entitled District Line which is a bit of shift back to Sugar like rock but with a sheen of electronica burbling away in the background of tracks. It’s pretty good too.

Anyhow, enough writing… more music. Here is Husker Du live going through “Eight Miles High”

From Sugar, early 1990s.

Here is Husker Du from Candy Apple Grey

And here is a taste of Blowoff…

and here is their myspace page.

…here is something from the new album (with Mould looking rather like a distinguished and well fed Billy Bragg).

Effortless. Even now…

Comments»

1. eamonnmcdonagh - March 1, 2008

WBS, for the first time I find myself in complete and unreserved agreement with you :=) I was lucky enough to see the great man live at the University of Reading in 1998. A hell of an experience I can tell you

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2. WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2008

For the first time eamonn? I though we agreed on quite a bit actually… seriously.

But yep, a great band. I think you’re very fortunate, although with luck he may well visit Ireland soonish.

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3. eamonnmcdonagh - March 1, 2008

i know, we’ve agreed on some things but usually with various ifs and buts and what abouts…..

I may be back in ireland soon so I hope you are right about him coming

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4. Garibaldy - March 1, 2008

Is it just me or has the youtube totally screwed up the formatting again? I’m typing this in about 48 size type.

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5. WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2008

I’ll take a look Garibaldy. I don’t know what to do with Youtube… every time it’s incorporated into a post something goes askew…

eamonn, I think that’s life… full of contingent issues!

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6. Garibaldy - March 1, 2008

Fixed now.

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7. WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2008

Cool.

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8. Mark P - March 1, 2008

A very interesting post about a very interesting man. I prefer Husker Du to the gay house thing Mould does now, but unlike most rock musicians who experiment with dance music he does at least understand what he’s trying to do and isn’t just lobbing some newfangled sounds into his work in a misguided attempt to stay “relevant”. David Bowie, I’m looking at you.

On a tediously nitpicking note, I don’t think that Husker Du could really be said to have carved out the space that R.E.M. inhabited. The two bands were formed at around the same time and R.E.M. were arguably a bigger band during the period of their coexistence. R.E.M.’s period of stadium tour vast commercial success was a wierd fluke really.

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9. WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2008

Very fair points Mark P. If I can modify my point re R.E.M., you’re right, they were, and probably at all points in their career, much bigger. And of course from Chronic Town onwards were doing the folky/country tinged stuff. But… perhaps Husker Du pointed to that space in what was later alt.rock which R.E.M. and others arrived at which was a blend of harder, softer, folkier, etc, etc elements. Or if you prefer both R.E.M. and Husker Du starting from somewhat different points both pointed the way towards that early 1990s sound. I always think of the first Sugar album and Automatic for the People as being two sides of a similar coin. Probably because I had them taped onto different sides of the same cassette tape back in the day!

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10. Phil - March 1, 2008

God, I love that version of “Eight Miles High” – I actually heard it before I ever heard the original, & I think in an odd way it made it easier to hear how radical that was. It’s hair-raising, genuinely alarming stuff, but underneath that there’s a real fidelity to the song. Very punk, in the best sense (the sense in which the Fugees were punk).

I was never quite into HD – as well as that single I’ve got NDR and FYW, but that’s it. Might check out some of Mould’s later stuff – he’s clearly a dude.

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11. WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2008

It’s great on record. Not perhaps so great in situ. But still great. I want to get a copy of CAG. Haven’t had it in a decade and a half.

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12. Wednesday - March 2, 2008

I didn’t know about the gay-disco-in-DC thing, that’s funny. I was living there at the time Zen Arcade was released and I remember going to see them at a small club in the suburbs – actually I’ve just found a link to a setlist of the gig here. As I recall they invited audience members to join them on the “stage” and the female scenester referred to on that page got up and did an acapella version of Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield”, to the great bemusement of everyone there. I’d forgotten all about that.

Great record, anyway, as was New Day Rising and of course “Eight Miles High” (I still have that single, it’s backed with a very bland cover of the Mary Tyler Moore theme song which sort of indicated the direction they would eventually go). They lost me after that and I never got into Sugar either. Thought the Replacements went downhill around the same time, but were also fantastic in their day. Actually I wouldn’t mind a loan of their early albums if you have them 🙂

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13. WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2008

Most are on vinyl, but I have Let It Be and a couple of others around the place on CD… will do.

Eight Miles High is great. Perhaps the best cover of that song.

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14. Justin - March 2, 2008

You’ve got to love Bob Mould- haven’t heard his house stuff but his early 90s material is hard to whack if you like that kind of thing.

Do you know of MIke Watt of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE? Unfortnately, both bands are long gone but the last time I looked, Mike Wats was playing bass (or “manning the thud stick”) for Iggy Pop.

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15. WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2008

I used to really like the Minutemen, but I heard little or nothing of fIREHOSE. I’ll look him/them up.

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16. In the Blogs: You’re in love and I’m in trouble edition at Paul Westerberg.net, a blog - March 5, 2008

[…] In honor of the Bob Mould concert I will be attending tonight, here’s a great and thoughtful look at Bob’s career over at The Cedar Lounge Revolution. […]

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