A few weeks ago I floated a question, originally posed by the folks at National Public Radio, asking people what they considered the most important bands of their college years.
There was a lot of R.E.M. love. Not surprising. We do live in the South. There were a couple of nods for the Replacements. That made me happy – a great, if oft-overlooked, act.
Widespread Panic was mentioned a couple of times. I was surprised to discover it didn’t take me 17 minutes to read the responses from those jam aficionados.
But the one that made me happiest, that made me feel a certain sense of simpatico, came from the Greater Augusta Sports Council’s Randy DuTeau. He name checked both The Who and The Clash – two British exports I hold in high esteem. And he also mentioned Hüsker Dü.
Randy, this review is for you.
A guy I played in a band with – who answered my survey with a not-at-all surprising Smashing Pumpkins – once said that if you cut me, I would bleed Hüsker Dü. I suspect he might be right.
The Hüsker Dü combination of big hook and bigger guitars has been foundational music for me. From the moment I took an educated guess on a cassette at the National Hills Homefolks, the Minneapolis power trio has been the band I’ve always gone back to. There’s only one problem. The band split in 1987.
The band’s two principal songwriters went on, with varying degrees of success, to solo careers – guitarist Bob Mould, though certainly not a household name, more so than cohort Grant Hart.
But it has been a story of peaks and valleys. While the music Mould made with Sugar, another trio, in the early 1990s is among the best of that decade, his later experiments with electronica, DJ culture and losing the loud in favor of a more singer-songwriter vibe have left all but the truest and bluest a little cold.
But now Bob is looking back and, more importantly, moving forward.
His latest album, Silver Age, demonstrates not only his famous mastery of leading a loud, melody-driven trio, but also his ability to evolve as an artist while still exploring familiar territory.
While there are still elements of Mould’s previous work to be found – the throbbing bass on the album opener Star Machine sounds an awful lot like the Sugar song A Good Idea and Steam of Hercules wouldn’t be out of place on that band’s more experimental Beaster EP – for the most part these songs show a new maturity, both musically and lyrically.
These new songs sound personal, less angry and more reflective. They are less about raging against the dying of the light and more about walking toward it. On this record Mould seems to feel comfortable, at long last, with calling his signature sound home. He’s just found a different way to get there.