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It’s been a little minute since one could stumble upon as a trial-by-fire, all-killer/no-filler, straight-as-an-arrow alternative punk rock LP from a legacy act as Bob Mould’s latest blazing studio full length project, Blue Hearts. The former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman’s fourteenth as a solo act, the LP dropped on 25th September and follows in the footsteps of 2019’s rather upbeat and stray light Sunshine Rock in the shape of what his indie label Merge Records dubs as “the raging-but-catchy yin to Sunshine Rock’s yang”, before adding that it was “recorded at the famed Electrical Audio in Chicago with Beau Sorenson engineering and Mould producing”, concluding that “Blue Hearts nods to Mould’s past while remaining firmly planted in the issues of the day”. Promo blurbs aside, the record cuts through like a rabid and quaint meat and potatoes uppercut at a packed and austere fourteen songs and 36 minutes of runtime, keeping comfortably on brand for an old underground hardcore scene head such as Mould.
While sporting key tunes on the album in title disguises such as “American Crisis“, “Forecast of Rain“, and “Racing to the End” might make the principal conceptual undercurrent of Mould’s latest exploit all too painfully obvious, there is so much more than meets the eye on the Malone, NY-native newest project. Mind you—all individual chapters sequenced within this thematic crusading journey are ultimately nothing more than blistering and riveting peas in a pod, but for one the semi-acoustic, stripped down, analogue frontiers on the album’s tail ends “Heart on My Sleeve” and “The Ocean” provide an equally awakening and matter-of-factly respite amidst the bulk of this body of work’s asphyxiating searing bonfires. The record’s flip in mood and sentiment compared to its predecessor is impossible to miss already on its unhinged seven-track A-side, with manic and inflammatory numbers such as “Next Generation” and “Fireball” exhuming some of Mould’s most piercing and inspiring mid-80s Hüsker Dü reference pull-ups, not without being set ajar to the kind of trademark sweet-on-the-ear sticky songwriting drowned in amp gain found in the aforementioned “Forecast” as well as “Siberian Butterfly” on that same front-end.
Perhaps even more pronouncedly than on any other body of work found within Mould’s career past the new millennium mark, Blue Hearts frequently sees the 59-year-old punk rocker flirting and fiddling with enveloping backup singing harmonies, courtesy of staple touring member and longtime band bassist Jason Narducy. Cases in point, on the less cohesive but compositionally more articulate and gnarly record’s B-side, are the groovy and infectious “Baby Needs a Cookie” at number ten, as well as album highlight “Password to My Soul” just two skips down the line, displaying revered and classic Mould playbook elements such as oceans of Fender Stratocaster distortion, sticky and tender chords progressions, lavish viscerality, and just wealth and wealth of melody. Such moments not only serve as poignant reminder for both Bob’s creative efficacy and deep influence over his 40-year-long career, but also go offset duller points on the project, found most acutely on the mutual carbon copied-snoozers of formulaic duds “When You Left” and “Little Pieces“.
What’s more, on the qualified and loaded half hour and change the former Sugar honcho packs in on his fifth consecutive album on the North Carolina indie imprint, there is even room for flavoursome sentimental detours, arguably not amongst Mould’s most recurring topical calling card. These afford listeners gratifying mundane interludes in-between the overtly explicit socio-political framework that so assertively defines the record’s overarching ethos. Take for instance “Everyth!ng to You“, a jolly and carefree tongue-in-cheek romantic declaration checking in halfway through the project, or even the raunchy blues rock of “Leather Dreams“, the latter not only casting somewhat unusual alt-garage sensibilities onto his songwriting, but also housing what might be the highest number of innuendos Bob ever lied to tape at once. With that being said, his voice is still mixed just that ounce or two too quiet to get eaten by cymbals, I mean guitars, to prompt listeners to pay a little bit extra attention.
This time though it’s as important as ever and not one bit less catchy than what we’ve come to expect from the old hardcore punk fox. Look—you don’t need to hear it from me, but in so many ways a project like Blue Hearts could only have come out in a year such as 2020. Existential and impending climate dismays, ostracising and disenfranchising societal uproars by way of ethnic reckonings, an earth-shattering public health emergency, and a menacing and breathtaking forthcoming election for the 46th President of the USA all end up crunched and parsed within the bold, earnest, and stern fourteen acts of Bob Mould’s auditory gesamtkunstwerk. This is stoic, matter-of-fact, and heart-on-sleeve zeitgeist recounting, free of virtue signalling or empty sloganeering, set to an animalistic and savage sonic score that ranks amongst the New York state-native’s most sincere and unfiltered. Don’t spend too much time scouting for soft and delicate acoustic menageries or intimate whispered affairs on this thing—those are to be found in spades across Mould’s rich and prolific back catalogue. This is the official soundtrack to going to hell in a hand basket, carrying chocolate chip cookies to tame a mean and evil orange monster…
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2020, Merge Records