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Bob Mould

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Godfather of grunge to a raft of musicians willing to explore the possibilities of hardcore punk and metal, former frontman with HUSKER DU, BOB MOULD – born October 12, 1960, Malone, New York – alongside buddies GRANT HART and Greg Norton were behind three of the greatest independently-issued albums of the mid-80s: “Zen Arcade” (a double!), “New Day Rising” and “Flip Your Wig”.
For almost the entirety of 1988, singer/multi-instrumentalist MOULD would hole up in a rural residence in Pine City, Minnesota, happy to make music while weening himself off drugs and booze. In the meantime, with a Virgin America contract in hand, and augmented by the former PERE UBU rhythm section of Anton Fier and Tony Maimone (plus cellist Jane Scarpantoni and percussionist Steve Haigler), MOULD confounded expectations with a largely acoustic affair. WORKBOOK (1989) {*8}, traded in melodic distortion for fragments of contemplative, RICHARD THOMPSON-like melancholy, only the closing `Whichever Way The Wind Blows’ acknowledged the sonic assault of prime HUSKER DU. Despite the guaranteed critical plaudits and the more accessible nature of the material (`Wishing Well’, `See A Little Light’, `Heartbreak A Stranger’ and `Compositions For The Young And Old’ immediate highlights), the album’s sales were modest; incidentally he covered RT’s `Shoot Out The Lights’ as a B-side.
Perhaps as a reaction, the following year’s BLACK SHEETS OF RAIN (1990) {*6} – again recorded with Fier and Maimone – was a searing return to bleaker, noisier pastures; `Hanging Tree’ remaining among the most tormented work of MOULD’s career, while the likes of `Hear Me Calling’ and `It’s Too Late’ combined keening melody with blistering soloing/discordant riffing in patented MOULD fashion. When this album also failed to take off (it peaked at No.123 in the Billboard chart), the singer parted company from Virgin and undertook a low-key acoustic tour. His wilderness period was brief, however, the emerging grunge vanguard elite citing HUSKER DU as a massive influence and inspiring Bob to form another melodic power trio: SUGAR.
Comprising fellow songwriter/bassist, David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis, SUGAR signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records (Rykodisc in his homeland), and proceeded to cut one of the most feted albums of the era in COPPER BLUE (1992) {*9}. Leaner, tighter and cleaner, the record’s bittersweet pop-hardcore crunch finally provided Mould with a springboard for commercial success; a UK Top 10 entry, the set even spawned a major hit single in the sublime and strum-y, `If I Can’t Change Your Mind’. If the PIXIES were worried that Bob was stripping them of their post-HUSKER DU sound in `A Good Idea’ (plus `Helpless’, `Changes’ and `Hoover Dam’), then it was just the singer’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to… well, himself; look out for their B-side cover of THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN’s `Armenia City In The Sky’.
BEASTER {*6}, 1993’s mini-album follow-up, took tracks from the CB sessions and buried them in a multi-tiered blanket of howling distortion. Unsurprisingly the half-hour set (best on show, `Tilted’, `Judas Cradle’ and `JC Auto’), failed to spawn a hit, although its UK Top 3 success was no doubt sweet for the ever contrary Mould; he’d been “outed” by Spin magazine for being gay, although it was no surprise to everyone in his circle of friends.
SUGAR’s follow-up proper, FILE UNDER: EASY LISTENING (1994) {*8}, suggesting that Bob had become bored with the whole concept of band life. But with the man at his most relaxed and carefree for some time, and with a band as sonic and kaleidoscopic as MY BLOODY VALENTINE (check out openers, `Gift’ and Barbe’s `Company Book’), UK Top 10 set/American Top 50 breakthrough, “F.U:E.L.” expanded into other genres. Chosen as single hit fodder, `Your Favorite Thing’, hook-line and power-melody also won the day for the likes of ballad `Panama City Motel’ and concluding track, `Explode And Make Up’.
The singer-songwriter eventually disbanded the project in spring ‘95, releasing a third solo album, simply titled BOB MOULD (1996) {*8}, which reaped him further industry plaudits but just fell short of the Top 100. Occasionally referred to as the “Hubcap” album (as depicted on the cover-art sleeve), Bob was completely solo on this occasion, as he engaged in sonic (sometimes lo-fi) territory; check out `I Hate Alternative Rock’, `Egoverride’ and `Fort Knox, King Solomon’.
Bowing out of the music industry treadmill with THE LAST DOG AND PONY SHOW (1998) {*7}, MOULD wanted to take a well-deserved break after the promotion of the set – thus its title. Augmented by drummer Matt Hammon and guest cellist Alison Chesley, Bob took to conventional-styled songs that guaranteed a few adrenaline-fuelled rockers and quieter ballads; only the pseudo-rap of `Megamanic’ took him beyond his tight boundaries.
MOULD eventually resurfaced in 2002 with MODULATE {*4}, an ambitious if ultimately flawed attempt at re-examining his muse through the lens of post-millennial electronica. Sadly, instead of being Bob’s “Kid A”, tracks such as The BEACH BOYS-esque `Sunset Safety Glass’, et al, were more “Kid Z”. Not content with alienating most of his loyal fanbase, Bob played out his newfound love of electro-dance for his pseudonymous/anagrammatical LoudBomb set, LONG PLAYING GROOVES (2003) {*4}.
MOULD’s most commercial set to date, BODY OF SONG (2005) {*6}, was an occasionally uncomfortable compromise between his clubbier impulses (including DAFT PUNK-style vocoder-singing) and 80s/90s alt-rock. Together with bassist Jason Narducy (of Verbow), drummer Brendan Canty (of FUGAZI) and soon-to-be keyboard collaborator, Richard Morel, MOULD went back on his word and toured to support the set; David Barbe was reunited with his former boss on tracks `High Fidelity’ and `Gauze Of Friendship’. Morel and Mould would work under the banner of BLOWOFF (2006) {*5} – also the title of the pair’s dance album.
Back on track and signed to Anti- Records, MOULD reverted to his old acoustic-rock ways for the hook-laden DISTRICT LINE (2008) {*7}; only `Shelter Me’ explored his disco fixation. Whether in a sweet or sour mode, the SUGAR-y `Who Needs To Dream’ and `The Silence Between Us’, were nice enough to eat, while lovers of his rockier climes would not be disappointed with `Stupid Now’, `Return To Dust’ and one re-vamped out-take from his “Workbook” salad days: `Walls In Time’.
Armed with an autobiography awaiting publication, LIFE AND TIMES (2009) {*7} continued to spur on his newfound love of acoustic rock. Partly folk (his idol RICHARD THOMPSON would’ve been proud of this one), Bob also took one beyond the ballads on rocker `MM 17’, and a handful of strum-friendly cues in `I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Anymore’ and the delicate title track. Incidentally, the book was entitled “See A Little Light: The Trail And Rage Of Melody”, co-authored with Michael Azerrad.
Retaining Narducy and enlisting SUPERCHUNK’s sticksman Jon Wurster, the credibility factor was also in tow when he released his tenth set, SILVER AGE (2012) {*7}, for the mighty Merge label. His first solo album to make a mark in the US Top 60, fans would flock back in the knowledge that Bob had found his electric, latter-day-HUSKER DU/SUGAR shoes again. The fact he was performing “Copper Blue” in its entirety at “20th Anniversary” concerts, and promoting songs from this set a few months later, MOULD was in his element on the title track, `The Descent’, the grunge-like `Steam Of Hercules’, `Round The City Square’, et al. One just hopes this was not the end of the story.
From the candied point of view of emotion and pain (his estranged father had recently died), BEAUTY & RUIN (2014) {*8} re-affirmed Bob’d lost none of his Husker-period punk-pop passion. Exhuming in one fell swoop a fanbase that he’d probably thought lost, hard work and accounted for its brief Top 40 place. Not since his halcyon days grinding out New Day Rising and Zen Arcade had he crystalized a sound suited to his yearning and fiery vocal tones. In star track, `I Don’t Know You Anymore’, plus the head-shaking `Hey Mr. Grey’, `The War’ and `Kid With The Crooked Face’, middle-age had opened up another avenue for a man exploring times passed and a future to come.
The third in the trilogy concluding with PATCH THE SKY (2016) {*7}, the melancholy MOULD – whose mother had also died between albums – resisted little in the way of restraint when it came to banging out an honest handful of heavyweight songs. Roaring riffs, some as tight as in his days in SUGAR, his bracing power-trio – with Narducy and Wurster at the helm – were consequently celestial and cerebral on `Voices In My Head’, `The End Of Things’, `Losing Sleep’ and `Black Confetti’.
2019’s SUNSHINE ROCK {*7} was again in touch with his and his team’s melodic and introspective side – but not the charts for once. As one would assume: more than a hint of HUSKER DU and a little bit SUGAR-y (not forgetting a head-spinning re-tread of SHOCKING BLUE’s `Send Me A Postcard’), the tour de force and ferocity of `Thirty Dozen Roses’, `I Fought’ and `What You Want Me To Do’, scored more rock’n’roll brownie points in their manic minutes that the sentimental opening title track drama. Overall the album probably lacked that one great memorable song to push MOULD back into god-like terrain, but then maybe, in time, slow-burners `Lost Faith’ and anchor-piece `Western Sunset’ were just waiting to disprove the doubters.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Jun2019

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