Since every March is APIT season, I figured this is as good a time as any to shine additional ethereal light on Bob Mould. Not that the 59-year-old guitarist and singer/songwriter would ever need it, but recent haphazard revisiting of his immensely prolific catalogue—spanning two major influential rock outfits and thirteen LPs worth of solo work—made it abundantly clear and poignant that the gentleman stands as one of alternative rock’s most paramount, characteristic, and genre-defining frontmen in the last forty years. I understand how filing this piece under the Preliminary Introduction To rubric might sound like an abhorrent affront to many a punk rock brothers and sisters. I hear you all and I agree—Bob needs no delirious preliminary introduction. Yet again, it’s March after all and this the ideal excuse to indulge ourselves one more time in this amply revered author’s relatable melodic distortion of harshness…
Ask any self-respecting ex-scene kid who came up in the punk, underground, hardcore, or alternative artistic milieus in the 80s what Hüsker Dü meant to them and their peers and you’ll be graced with passionate tell-alls aplenty. The Malone, NY-native fronted punk rock outfit—completed by iconic drummer/singer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton—almost singlehandedly steered the cultural and critique agenda of alternative music’s heavier spectrum during the better part of the legendary decade, together with a few other core projects such as The Replacements, Minutemen, and Sonic Youth. With seminal and trailblazing concept albums such as the off-the-wall Zen Arcade (1984), as well as the quick succession of near-perfect gnarly full-length catchy ankle-biters New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig (both 1985), and Candy Apple Grey (1986), the St Paul, MN-band thunderously rose to the mount Rushmore of indie underground punk within the span of twelve months (despite ending up signing with prestigious major Warner Bros for the latter record).
Their songs had the intelligent melodic tapestry of The Beatles, but were performed with the intensity, sound, and ferocity of The Ramones. The following year’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories turned out to be the trio’s final studio album and de facto fulfilment of their fat major label deal contract, with Hüsker Dü dissolving in the wake of the tour in its support, allegedly due to creative differences between Bob and Grant Hart, exacerbated by the drummer’s drug use at the time. Bob certainly didn’t rest on his laurels though, and within the span of a year from the band’s break-up saw fit to put out his first, highly-anticipated solo album in 1989, coming in the shape of the almost wholly reverb-folk acoustic affair Workbook. His return to slightly heavier soundscapes on his foreboding sophomore solo project Black Sheets of Rain provided another assertive statement of post-Hüsker intent, before foraying into bona fide early 90s alternative rock canon with his cult and critically-acclaimed band Sugar.
Sugar—sculpted by Mould alongside bassist David Barbe (ex-Mercyland) and drummer Malcolm Travis (ex-Human Sexual Response)—turned out to be a relatively short-lived stint for Bob and co, albeit one of tremendous cultural resonance at the time. The band’s calculated turn towards more melodic fringes of punk, and especially its life-defining debut LP Copper Blue (1992), went on to attract both commercial and high-brow success amidst glowing reviews, most notably snapping the number one spot in the same year’s Best Albums list by at the time reputable music publication NME. Two more hollowly stark studio projects in swift timely succession (Beaster and File Under: Easy Listening) sealed Sugar’s brief yet terrific ascension spell, toothlessly completed by a handful of compilations and live recordings thrown out over the years following the trio’s disbandment.
It’s not until 1996 that Bob decides to reprise his solo project stick—notwithstanding the erratic vanity exercise of releasing bundled halves of his first two solo records as part of a Virgin-issued compilation titled Poison Years banking on Sugar’s acclaim in 1994—as he returned to the scene with his third eponymous outing, effectively re-launching his musical trajectory as a one-man show. A number of dime a dozen and partially uninspired studio LPs followed between then and 2008’s regal District Line, a robust 10-track exercise in his unique trademark sombre and sticky punk rock authorship. Distortion-drenched, capo-steered, gain-optimised Fender Stratocaster-generated sound waves had long been his superior discerned unique selling point as a popular punk rock songwriter, but nowhere are these better distilled than in his output during the 2010s. While I don’t mean to go over his 2009 preciously delicate and fragile Life and Times too thanklessly—one that incidentally provided the contextual building blocks for his heart-on-sleeve 2011 memoir See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody—the work of art released over the past ten years might be his best.
By his own admission, the 2010s saw Bob go through a whirlwind of private and public emotions, ranging from the perishing of both his parents to the socio-cultural shock of relocating his whole entire life away from utterly hip and radical chic San Francisco to the even more utterly hip and radical chic Berlin, Germany. His first record under his new deal with imperial indie label Merge Records, the outstanding Silver Age in 2012, signalled a fortified return to raw honesty and compositional poignancy, unsurprisingly so, considering the motions the New York state native was going through at the time. Truly and honestly, pick any Bob Mould record past this point and you’ll be furnished with exceptional performances, impeccable delivery, quality ideas, and watertight no-frills punk rock truth. Guaranteed. 2014’s Beauty and Ruin might just be his best—it’s hard to describe what kind of music it conduits, collectively surrendering to the fact that one can’t quite understand what happens in those songs transporting to transcendental states—although both Patch the Sky (2016) and last year’s Sunshine Rock surely give it a run for its money.
All in all, in all his artistic forms and expressions, Bob Mould stands to represent a trustworthy, prolific, and timeless underground rock minstrel who approaches his craft with scientific-like devotion and method. It will come to no surprise to most that the infamous and sublime north star that keeps on guiding him like a lighthouse when led astray is the goal to perfect the quintessential pop song. Case in point, he always sequences his stickiest track, his calling card, the one with the most powerful hook and airplay rotation potential, at number three on his tracklists. This is true for Hüsker, Sugar, and his solo material. Go back to his discog and check that for yourselves. After all though, Bob Mould remains a relatable, fallible, pedestrian, and regular gay man. By happenstance, he somehow ended up being a very important one, too.
Below listed are Bob Mould’s selected works from 1982 to 2019:
Black Sheets of Rain (1990)
Bob Mould (sometimes referred to as Hubcap) (1996)
The Last Dog and Pony Show (1998)
Body of Songs (2005)
District Line (2008)
Life and Times (2009)
Silver Age (2012)
Beauty & Ruin (2014)
Patch the Sky (2016)
Sunshine Rock (2019)
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.