Bob Mould is the Renaissance man of Punk Rock.
More than 30 years ago, Mould formed and fronted the seminal
Minneapolis Punk band Husker Du.
Named for an obscure Swedish board game from the 50s,
Husker Du was a trio featuring Bob Mould on lead guitar and vocals,
Grant Hart on drums and vocals and Greg Norton on Bass.
The band pioneered a style that combined post-hardcore
thrash with a keen sense of melody. Mould and Hart split the songwriting
duties, creating an intense rivalry that exacerbated over the years.
Between 1981 and 1987, Husker Du released eight studio albums.
Along with R.E.M., Husker Du paved the way for bands like
the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Replacements and Soul Asylum.
Relentless touring and the burgeoning power of College
Radio ensured that their fan base increased exponentially.
Their diligence laid the foundation for the early 90s success of
Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and the Grunge and Alternative movements.
Husker Du impoded by 1987. Mould and Hart continually
clashed. The fact that Mould became completely sober while Hart
was wallowing in addiction made it impossible to continue their
Mould immediately rebounded with two solo efforts,
Workbook and Black Sheets Of Rain. Both were the antithesis
of Husker Du’s melodic thrash. Introspective and reflective, the songs
were performed mostly on acoustic guitar and piano.
Clearly Mould missed the Power Punk trio dynamic. By
1992 he formed Sugar with drummer Malcolm Travis and Dave
Barbe on bass. Capitalizing on the indie-cred he had accrued with
Husker Du, Sugar’s music was commercial without compromise.
But the success of Sugar was soured when Spin magazine publicized
the open secret that Mould was gay.
But Mould perservered. Re-commited to his solo career,
he recorded six solo albums between 1996 and 2009. Mould also
spent a year working as a scriptwriter for the WCW!
Mould’s song “Dog On Fire” as performed by They Might
Be Giants, has been the frenetic theme song for “The Daily Show”
since the late 90’s.
Much to the chagrin of his punk followers, Mould’s
2002 effort, Modulate, dabbled in Electronic Dance Music. By
2011 Mould had written his candid autobiography, “See A Little
Light.” (The opening paragraphs plant Mould at a clothing-
optional Gay resort in Palm Springs, anticipating his Coachella debut).
In September 2011, Bob Mould was feted at Walt Disney Hall.
Artists as disparate as Dave Grohl, Magaret Cho, Grant Lee Phillips,
the Hold Steady and Ryan Adams performed songs from Mould’s
It’s been 3 years since Mould’s last album, but finally
he is back with Silver Age.
Silver Age kicks into gear with “Star Machine.”
Anchored by down-stroke power chords, the lyrics seem to take
a swipe at arch-nemesis Grant Hart, as well as the pitfalls of
notoriety: “You tell the world you had to fire the band, your little
world has gotten out of hand/The star machine will hand your ass
right back to you.”
Three songs seem to address the dichotomy of plying
the Punk Rock trade as a fiftysomething. The title track unspools
chunky guitar riffs over a pure punk beat. Mould seems at peace
with his perch in the Punk Rock hierarchy. But he acknowledges
that the unchecked aggression of youth never completely
dissipates. Mould asserts he’s “Never too old to contain my rage.”
His trademark honeyed harmonies are salted in the mix, leavening
the combative lyrics.
“The Descent” ups the ante. A pummeling rhythm connects
with Mould’s distorted guitar fills. The lyrics offer up a mordant recollection
of his mis-spent youth…”I started out so starry-eyed, full of hope and wonder/
And I wore flowers in my hair, not aware I’d been defiled.”
Finally, “Briefest Moment” is a clear-eyed homage to the cathartic
magic of music..”I heard a melody so pure, I felt an echo that was so familiar/
I left my misery behind, it was only for the briefest moment in time.”
The tune is powered by a blitzkrieg beat and blazing guitar.
The best songs on Silver Age are “Fugue State” and “Keep
Believing.” The former weds a locomotive rhythm and slashing guitar
to lyrics that feel like a marauding mental health check..”I pull apart
the trauma and push against gravity.”
“Keep Believing” echoes the Clash’s crunchy cover of
“I Fought The Law.” Here Mould reaffirms the life-long addiction
to music…”The drug that keeps me breathing, I stick it in me everyday/
The needle the sound, the groove goes around.”
Mould’s sexuality informs a couple of songs, the propulsive
“Round The City Square” and “Angels Rearrange,” a pensive
recollection of love gone wrong.
The closing track, “First Time Joy” acts as the album’s
denouement. Lithe acoustic guitars arch and curve as Tijuana Brass
style horns meander through the melody. The lyrics are a testament
to the ephemeral pleasures of life.
Silver Age is a solo album in name only. Mould receives
adroit support from Jason Narducy on bass and drummer Jon Wurster.
Hopefully we won’t have to wait three whole years for his next effort.
But with Bob Mould his next creative outlet could be composing
a symphony, staging a post-punk ballet or secretly fighting crime as
a gay superhero! Such is the curse of a renaissance man.
Bob Mould is the Renaissance man of Punk Rock.