Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Keep Believing in Mould

Four notes of a sample into Bob Mould’s newest album, and I had already clicked “BUY.”

You see, there are two kinds of Bob Mould albums: the ones I love, and the other ones I've forgotten. Finding ways to segregate them more definitively becomes a challenge, but I know it when I hear it, and it doesn't take more than a few notes.

Certain elements are essential for Mould to be optimized for my ears:
  • Bob must rock.
  • Bob must rock at many BPM.
  • Bob must growl.
  • Bob must seethe.
  • Guitars must wail.
Like any man who has managed to hit his 50s without killing himself or someone else, Bob Mould cannot spend every waking minute of his life -- or his creative life -- seething and rocking and wailing at high-level BPM. Bob has slowed it down, experimented with different sounds, tried different angles on expressing the alien monsters growing inside his heart.

I do not blame him for this. In fact, I celebrate it. Lots of great artists get pigeonholed, and it’s understandable that they long to break out and beyond. But I don’t like listening to Bob breaking out of his, if you'll pardon me, Mould. I like him in his pigeonhole of frothy angry aggressive muck.

Husker Du was a nice appetizer, and Sugar was my main course. Copper Blue was a shock to my system, and Beaster, their follow-up EP, turned the anger up to 11. It’s easily the angriest and most raucous (and flawed) collection of songs I’ve ever loved. The end of the Sugar trilogy, File Under: Easy Listening, was my least-beloved of the three, but time has softened my take on it; it deserves to be considered a great power pop album by a higher-echelon power pop band.

Mould's solo career has mostly been, for me, moments of brilliance couched in swaths of Alzheimer’s, which is to say easily forgotten. Let me repeat: this is very much about me pigeonholing a talented artist. If Mould had released 10 slight variations of Copper Blue, he'd be irrelevant and forgotten by now.

Five seconds into the first song off Silver Age, I knew the Bob I love was back.

Was it his autobiography, the writing of it, the exploration of his own past? Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to believe recording with and touring with the Foo Fighters (yes, I'm biased) untethered him from his fears. He might have feared and hated, for understandable reasons, those of us who yearned for him to return to his raucous roots. Paying too much attention to what fans want or expect is deadly. It either kills your creativity, or your soul, or both.

But he saw the Foo Fighters having fun. He saw how free they felt, playing angry-ish music they love and not giving a shit how far or how often it strays from their well-established range of sound. (It's not like he was touring with Nickelback, fer Chrissakes.)

I think that experience liberated him and let him look back musically and let him be proud of what he’s created. To me, Silver Age is the sound of a rock god looking back upon his works. There were bands, and there were solo albums, and he saw that it was good.

Bob, your anger and intensity is like sunshine on my shoulder. Both make me very happy.


Bob said...

I can't believe it has taken this long for one of us to write about Bob Mould, since we are both long time fans.

I share an equal love for the "quieter" side of Bob Mould and would argue that he is no less angry on quieter numbers like "The Next Time That You Leave" or that first song on The Last Dog and Pony Show.

troutking said...

Great song! Apparently he's playing this album and Copper Blue in concert. But nowhere near here, sadly.