Bob Mould’s journey as a musical artist has taken many twists and turns over the last three decades. From his beginnings with the legendary Husker Du to his ’90s alt-rock ascendancy with the band Sugar to a foray into electronica and now his return to form as indie rock godfather, Mould has left an indelible stamp on modern rock. This fall, Mould launched a successful victory tour through North America and parts of the world, playing Sugar’s classic Copper Blue in its entirety and highlighting songs from his excellent new solo album Silver Age.
More recently, Mould embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the release of a concert film documenting the tribute show held last November to honor Mould’s music. See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould features performances from artists including Dave Grohl, Britt Daniel of Spoon, Ryan Adams, No Age, and Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady.
In this edition of Note for Note, we take a look at the music Mould made throughout his storied career, starting with the Husker Du years.
A reminder: The grades assigned to each of these albums are reflective of the individual authors who wrote about them, and may or may not be reflective of the opinions of the rest of the staff.
Husker Du – Land Speed Record (1982)
Ken: Husker Du made its recorded debut with Land Speed Record, which was recorded live in August 1981 at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. It was an album that was more aligned with the fast punk of the late 1970s than what most people would assume from Husker Du. To say it was a complex album would be a lie. It was a simple album with fast guitars and muddled vocals. This was a typical sounding album for the hardcore punk scene in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, though. On the songs “Guns at My School” and “You’re Naïve,” you can hear the lyrical complexity for which Mould would become known. For the band’s first album this wasn’t what I expected, but given the timeframe from which this came out I am also not shocked.
Husker Du – Everything Falls Apart (1983)
Ken: The band’s first studio album, Everything Falls Apart was a little cleaner than Land Speed Record, but it wasn’t an excellent album by any means. They were still a punk band with fast guitars and vocals that weren’t clearly heard. With the songs “From the Gut”, “Punch Drunk” and “Target,” the band picked up where it left off with Land Speed Record. The songs are all around two minutes or less and seem rushed. The best song on the album was the Donovan cover “Sunshine Superman,” but you can hear the Huskers transitioning into a more mature band with this song.
Grade : C
Husker Du – Metal Circus EP (1983)
Ken: The Metal Circus EP found the band developing its melodic sound, with Mould’s vocals much more prominent in the mix. The release also shifted away from shorter bursts of music, with songs approaching the 3-minute length and one that was nearly 5 minutes. From the opening song “Real World,” you can instantly tell that it’s a different sound and feel from the first two albums. Grant Hart’s “Diane” tells the story of a St. Paul waitress who was brutally murdered in 1980. This EP set the table nicely for the awesomeness that followed.
Grade : B-
Husker Du – Zen Arcade (1984)
Ken: Zen Arcade was Husker Du’s second studio album, and you can tell that the band is starting to get its sound down. The guitars aren’t very clear over the sound of Greg Norton’s bass, but you can hear Mould’s and Hart’s vocals through it all. This is an album that is about a boy who runs away from his life at home and realizes that the world outside his home life isn’t much better. Some have said this album was the precursor to the melodic hardcore genre that is known as emo. On the song “Indecision Time,” the band is struggling with its identity; while that song is hardcore punk, other songs on the 23-song double album are melodic and slower, with psychedelic and folk influences coming to the fore.
Husker Du – New Day Rising (1985)
Ken: Husker Du wasted no time after the release of Zen Arcade, jumping back in the studio again to record New Day Rising. With this album, the band sounded more polished than it was on Zen Arcade. The songwriting continued to improve: The title track, “Celebrated Summer,” “I Apologize” and “Books About UFOs” are all classic Husker Du songs and are fairly catchy to boot. After the weirdness of “ How to Skin a Cat,” the album closes with two songs that hark back to the band’s early hardcore sound, “Whatcha Drinking?” and “Plans I Make.” Despite that late-record departure, New Day Rising is the sound of a band finally hitting its stride.
Husker Du – Flip your Wig (1985)
Ken: Flip Your Wig was Husker Du’s last album on SST. Mould has called it the band’s best album. Although there’s some filler like “The Baby Song” and a few instrumentals, the album has a less frenzied pace than in the past and it’s one of the better sounding albums Husker Du made. The album features great songs including the title track, “Makes No Sense at All,” “Hate Paper Doll” and “Green Eyes” as Mould and Hart seem to be competing for who can contribute the better material. You hear a maturity in the lyrics and music; even though New Day Rising came out in the same year, it’s as though Husker Du completed its sound with this album.
Grade: A –
Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey (1986)
Jay: Candy Apple Grey was the major label debut for legendary Minneapolis post-punk trio Husker Du, and it was also the beginning of the end for the band. The album saw the Huskers moving away from the hardcore that dominated their early releases and toward a more melodic sound; albeit one that still rocked harder than most so-called college rock of the time. Two recent books (a band bio by Andrew Earles and Mould’s autobiography) reveal serious tension between songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart during this time, but it didn’t affect the quality of their work: Hart’s “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” and “Sorry Somehow” and Mould’s “Hardly Getting Over It” rank among the best songs the band ever recorded. On “Hardly Getting Over It” and “Too Far Down,” Mould also introduced the acoustic guitars that would show up in his future solo work and with Sugar, while “No Promise Have I Made” features Hart on solo piano; it’s hard to imagine that these are the same guys who made the blistering hardcore document Land Speed Record just a few years earlier. The big label push from Warner Bros. could only get the album to #140 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, but Candy Apple Grey is the final chapter in a terrific run of albums in three-year period from Husker Du: Zen Arcade in ’84, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig in ’85 and Candy Apple Grey in ’86. Although the band was disintegrating as a unit, Candy Apple Grey still featured Husker Du at its musical peak and certainly paved the way for countless guitar-heavy alt-rock acts to follow.
Husker Du – Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987)
Jay: The band’s final release, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, was a double album (on vinyl) and didn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessors, coming at a time when Mould and Hart pretty much couldn’t stand each other (for many reasons but heightened by Hart’s drug use). Regardless of the interpersonal issues, Husker Du put together a pretty good album as its swan song. Mould’s power pop anthem “Could You Be the One?” was the first single and garnered some airplay on FM rock stations and MTV. “Ice Cold Ice” and “She’s a Woman (and Now He is a Man)” were also released as singles, while Hart and Mould pretty much split the songwriting duties on the album. It’s all over the place, but the songs are uniformly good. Alas, the band split after touring for Warehouse, and aside from a brief reunion at a benefit in 2004, there appears to be no chance that Husker Du will reunite.
In Part 2, we’ll look at Bob Mould’s early solo work and his terrific band Sugar.