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Husker Du

Appropriating their group name from the Norwegian/Danish term for “do you remember?”, HUSKER DU (pronounced “Whoo-sker Doo”) have, in time, become a landmark power-trio, as important to the 80s as PIXIES and the advent of grunge. Pioneer and godfather to the scene itself, Bob Mould (vocals/guitar), led out the trio, but the significance too, of vocalist/drummer Grant Hart and the moustachio’d bass player, Greg Norton, was not to be underestimated.
Formed in St. Paul, Minnesota, early in 1979, the three RAMONES fans got together when, in one way or another (Norton as employee), they frequented their local record store.
Hardcore punk music had been driven underground, but with a plethora of US indie-rock acts taking the British-addled DIY approach, groups such as HUSKER DU could produce their own records to gain a foothold in the corporate-addled music biz. Although not quite of that ilk, Twin/Tone Records (future home to The REPLACEMENTS, et al), rejected the trio’s debut single, `Statues’, leading them to release the 7” on their own, and Terry Katzman’s Reflex independent label.
Switching to MINUTEMEN’s New Alliance operation, and cut live at their local 7th St. Entry venue in August 1981, the mini-LP LAND SPEED RECORD (1982) {*4}, proved they’d had more than just a few ideas in the can – albeit very short ’n’ sour ones. The record typified the band’s early uncompromising hardcore, which was often tediously workmanlike in its adherence to the steadfast confines of the genre. If one can imagine a sprawling MOTORHEAD or BLACK FLAG, the Du’s amphetamine-rushed tracks (17 of them packed into 27 minutes) were not for the faint-hearted.
Equally brief and to the point, their self-released 20-minute mini-set, EVERYTHING FALLS APART (1983) {*6}, was also unflinching in its intensity, but at least this time, they’d had time to take a breather or two in the studio, while a thrash cover of DONOVAN’s `Sunshine Superman’ was probably the set’s most accessible tune. Songs scribed by mainly Mould or Hart, the SST-sanctioned EP/mini-set (call it what you will), METAL CIRCUS (1983) {*6}, showed glimmers of noise-pop greatness. Hart’s two contributions, `It’s Not Funny Anymore’ and the delicate `Diane’ (running time 4:40 minutes) were leaps and bounds beyond their chaotic works of a few years back.
They consolidated this sound by cross-fertilising the previously polarised worlds of psychedelia and hardcore punk on an electrifying cover of The BYRDS’ `Eight Miles High’, released exclusively as a single in spring ‘84. Double set, ZEN ARCADE (1984) {*9}, was one small step for hardcore and one giant leap for mankind. A concept album no less, the twin songwriting/vocal attack of Mould or Hart (all three for concluding 13-minute epic, `Reoccurring Dreams’), was becoming sharper and even the sprawling, unfocused feel of the whole affair wasn’t enough to blunt the edges of songs like `Something I Learned Today’, `Chartered Trips’, the acoustic-led `Never Talking To You Again’, `Hare Krsna’ (very “I Want Candy”), the mind-numbing `Beyond The Threshold’, `What’s Going On’, `Somewhere’, O.D. song `Pink Turns To Blue’ and the kaleidoscopic `Whatever’.
The songwriting on single-set follow-up, NEW DAY RISING (1985) {*9}, was even more trenchant, the trio’s adrenaline-fuelled pop-core hybrid developing at breakneck speed: from the opening skull-bashing mantra title track to the lemming/LEMMY-like dirge, `Plans I Make’. Of course, screaming anthems were the group’s forte: `The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill’, `I Apologize’, `I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About’ and the retro-bop `Books About UFOs’, the stand-outs among their groove-grinding grunge.
Building on their two previous underground successes, and helped along by Mould’s pieste de resistance 45, `Makes No Sense At All’ (b/w Sonny Curtis’s `Love Is All Around’), FLIP YOUR WIG (1985) {*9}, was the band’s last indie release. A diversion to arena-rock and the stadium-ised “Band-Aid” brigade, the cleaner, claustrophobic and cathartic set was marked with a string of potential pop hits, but neither `Hate Paper Doll’, `Green Eyes’, `Divide And Conquer’, `Flexible Flyer’ and `Find Me’, challenged the rock hierarchy for a chart scrap.
Their previous set marked a stepping stone to their major label debut for Warners, CANDY APPLE GREY (1986) {*7}. While Hart perfected HUSKER DU’s melodic discord on tracks like `Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’ and `Dead Set On Destruction’, Mould showcased darkly introspective, acoustic elegies `Too Far Down’ (penned with Hart) and `Hardly Getting Over It’. The more musically-challenged among HUSKER DU’s following were none too taken with this new fangled R.E.M.-styled unplugged business although the album (including classy 45, `Sorry Somehow’) was released to unanimous critical acclaim.
The band’s swansong double-set, WAREHOUSE: SONGS AND STORIES (1987) {*8}, was the culmination of hard times between Mould and Hart as they began to squabble over the latter’s drug and alcohol consumption. In such a short space of time, HUSKER DU had left behind a trail of heady hardcore to write songs that verged on the precipice of power-pop, although the likes of Hart’s `Charity, Chastity, Prudence And Hope’ and Mould’s `Standing In The Rain’, still had an edge. Turning back the clock to the psychedelic 60s and punk 70s, HUSKER DU could whip out hallucinatory hotties like `It’s Not Peculiar’, the folky `She Floated Away’, `You’re A Soldier’, `Ice Cold Ice’, `Could You Be One?’, `Bed Of Nails’ and `She’s A Woman (And Now He Is A Man)’. Their experimentation possessed an unprecedented depth, clarity and commerciality, but when their manager David Savoy committed suicide that April, HUSKER DU were all but finished – Hart was sacked late ‘87. Sick of the music biz altogether, Norton was to become a fully-fledged restauranteur and chef.
While both GRANT HART and BOB MOULD went on to solo careers, as well as respectively forming NOVA MOB and SUGAR, the pair were always better together, and the magic of HUSKER DU is inestimable in its influence on a generation of alternative guitar bands. Upon the demise of HUSKER DU, MOULD signed to Virgin America, HART struck up another deal at SST for his `Intolerance’ set (1989). Sadly, after years plugging away on the alt-rock/indie scene (final album: `The Argument’ in 2013), Grant died of liver cancer on September 14, 2017; he was only 56.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Sep2017

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