After a successful run of albums in the ’90s, peaking with the alt-rock awesomeness of Sugar and ending in 1998 with what seemed to be his guitar rock swan song with The Last Dog and Pony Show, Bob Mould returned to the music scene with a whole new attitude and an even newer sound. But as always with Mould, he didn’t stay in one musical place for very long.
Bob Mould – Modulate (2002)
Jay: Whereas his last album included some tape loops and electronic effects, with Modulate Bob Mould went all in with electronic music. From the opening track “180 Rain,” diehard Mould/Husker Du fans knew they were dealing with something different when the synths and Autotune kicked in. It was definitely a shock to the system, and Mould acknowledged in his book See a Little Light that it wasn’t necessarily a successful move. But the man has always followed his instincts, and even on an album that had more misses than hits, he came up with a few interesting songs. Guitars reappear on “Slay/Sway,” which along with “The Receipt” and “Comeonstrong,” could have appeared on a Sugar or ’90s-era Mould solo album. Mould also seemed to be in a better place in his life, which is reflected by his lighter vocal style throughout this album, as compared to the sheer visceral anger that he generated on Black Sheets of Rain and Beaster. Still, while Modulate was perhaps a necessary experiment for Mould, it’s best left in the past.
Bob Mould – Body Of Song (2005)
Jesse: “Circles” was the perfect reintroduction to Mould 2.0. It begins with a quiet organ line and builds to this epic rock anthem. I remember randomly putting it on at the record store I was working at at the time and it just floored me. I remembered why I loved Mould the first time I discovered him through Sugar in the early ’90’s. I’ve always been a fan of electronic music so Body Of Song appealed as a fan of both Sugar and the Blowoff stuff that Mould had been experimenting with. Once you thought you knew where Body Of Song was going (“(Shine Your) Light Love Hope”) a song like “Paralyzed” would come on and go in the complete opposite direction. Elsewhere, “Underneath Days”, “Always Tomorrow” and the monolithic closer “Beating Heart The Prize” were not only reminders of what a great songwriter Mould is but that his music is timeless.
District Line (2008)- If “Circles” was the reintroduction to the magic of Bob Mould of the 21st Century, then District Line’s excellent opener “Stupid Now” solidifies his place among rock’s hierarchy. Starting as a simple pop anthem, it quickly escalates and gives a small glimmer of that “other” band he used to front back in the ’80’s during the chorus. Most of District Line treads that line between pop and rock so delicately mixing acoustic strummed anthems with power chord rockers effortlessly. The electronica aspect is almost completely gone except for a few subtle Autotune effects (“Miniature Parade”, “Who Needs To Dream”) and of course, the full on beats beauty that is “Shelter Me”. Carrying over from Body…, former Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty lays it on thick throughout except for on closer “Walls Of Time” which as it turns was the perfect lead in to 2009’s follow up Life And Times. (Jesse)
Life And Times (2009)- Mould’s ninth solo album and one of his most introspective, this one was the precursor to his autobiography See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody and the evidence that Mould was knee deep in personal history was evident everywhere. Honestly, it’s my least favorite Bob Mould record. If you consider what Body Of Song and District Line did, Life And Times just seemed to take all that momentum away. The record got about two complete listens before I forgot about it completely and as of right now I still couldn’t name a song off of it. If you’re a fan, do yourself and skip this one and read the book instead (Yes, I suggested you read a book INSTEAD of listen to music. I can’t believe it either) and then tune back in for the complete turnaround that is 2012’s Silver Age (The Popblerd review is right here!). You’ll thank me. (Jesse)
Odds and Ends
For the completist (though this list is by no means complete), we offer you a selection of recordings from the “grey” area of music retail. Some of these are legit but out of print, others are less so. Enjoy!
Bob Mould – Wishing Well EP (1989)
Alan: In addition to the album version of “Wishing Well,” this EP includes four songs recorded at the Cabaret Metro in 1989: “If You’re True,” “Poison Years,” “Brasilia Crossed With Trenton” and “Shoot Out The Lights.” All of which were included on the 2008 reissue of Workbook, but if you have the old version of Workbook, you’ll have to do some digging to track this down – it was only issued as a promotional item from Virgin.
Bob Mould – The Calm Before The Storm (Live at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA, May 17, 1991)
Alan: In May 1991, Bob Mould was in a weird spot professionally. He and his label, Virgin, had parted ways after Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain had been released. Sugar hadn’t quite come together yet. Bob was doing a series of solo shows. One of these shows, immortalized as the CD The Calm Before the Storm, has circulated as a bootleg for years. Here we have Mould on electric guitar and that’s it—no band. He plays through a couple Husker Du classics like “Makes No Sense At All’, and “Could You Be The One,” but the majority of the 78-minute set is from Workbook and Black Sheets. In addition to some incredible solo performances of Mould’s classics, there is also a selection of material that (at the time) had not been released, such as:
- An early acoustic version of “The Act We Act,” which would eventually become the opening track on Copper Blue (over a year later).
- “Walls in Time” didn’t see the light of day until 2008’s District Line
- “Can’t Fight It” became available on the 1993 benefit album No Alternative
The sound quality is good, but inconsistent on most versions. Overall, this is a great show to add for the hardcore fan and completist, but totally unnecessary for the casual fan.
Bob Mould – Eg0verride EP (1996)
Alan: A perfect companion piece to the self-titled Bob Mould album (a.k.a.”Hubcap”), these are essentially the songs that didn’t make it onto the CD itself, but easily could have. “Wanted Was,” for example, is easily interchangeable with just about any of the tracks on the album. The bitter “Eternally Fried” is a simple acoustic track, though less intense-sounding than “Thumbtack,” which may be why this one didn’t make it onto the album. The real gem of this collection, however, is the final track, “Doubleface.” Swirling guitars, acoustic and electric, and a wall of feedback panned back-and-forth, chasing each other in a way that would have Hendrix smiling from the grave.
Bob Mould Band – LiveDog98 (2002)
Alan: Bob released this on his own in 2002—it’s basically the live album from the Last Dog and Pony Show tour. Recorded at the Forum in London, this is Bob with a full band, playing to what is presumably a very enthusiastic audience. The band sounds great, but the only downside is that the setlist is primarily material from Hubcap and Last Dog and Pony Show. This is a no-bullshit live album with minimal talking between songs. It simply rocks.
Bob Mould – See A Little Light
Alan: For more in-depth analysis of the making of any of these records, I highly recommend Bob’s autobiography, See A Little Light:The Trail of Rage and Melody. There, you will have all your questions answered about Bob’s childhood, touring in a van during the Husker days, solo shows, how Sugar came together and why they broke up, his fascination with electronic music, and where he is today. This book is not only about music, but about relationships—professional, personal and romantic. An enjoyable read from cover to cover.