Bob Mould

TrackAlbum
See A Little LightWorkbook
Lonely AfternoonWorkbook
Sacrifice/Let There Be PeaceBlack Sheets Of Rain
Deep Karma CanyonBob Mould
The Silence Between UsDistrict Line
City Lights (Days Go By)Life And Times
The DescentSilver Age
Star MachineSilver Age
I Don't Know You AnymoreBeauty & Ruin
The WarBeauty & Ruin

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Contributor: Claire Butler

Bob Mould first came to the music world’s attention in the early 1980s as one third of the massively influential American hardcore punk/alternative band Hüsker Dü. Despite the enormous impact they had on both their contemporaries and later generations of musicians (both Nirvana and Pixies cite Hüsker Dü as a major influence), internal tensions forced the band to split in 1988, and Mould subsequently went solo.

Despite the brilliance of his much-loved band projects, it’s this solo aspect of Bob Mould’s long musical career I’ll be focusing on here, alongside a few of my favourite selections from some of his many and often eclectic albums. The sheer amount of music Mould has produced in the last 30 plus years has meant that it was a real challenge to put this playlist together, but I think I’ve managed to pick a good mixture of classic tracks and hidden gems from across the years for you to enjoy!

So, let’s begin at the beginning. Released a year after Hüsker Dü’s messy implosion, the gentler, more acoustic strains of Mould’s debut solo album Workbook were well-received by critics and music fans alike, clearly demonstrating the strength and diversity of his considerable songwriting skills, opening his music up to a whole new generation of fans and even influencing the likes of R.E.M.

You can hear this new approach to his music in the jangly pure pop of minor hit See A Little Light, which is, quite frankly, difficult to resist – contrasting strongly with the off-kilter harmonies of the bleaker, lyrically stark Lonely Afternoon (which also features one of Mould’s distinctively blistering guitar solos).

The follow-up to Workbook, 1990’s Black Sheets Of Rain, was a partial return to the ferocious wall of guitar sound Mould had always been renowned for. It was perhaps not as much of a critical success as its predecessor had been, but there’s still some great, deeply personal songs here. My choice from this album is the impassioned, monolithic slow-builder Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace, a song with some real power and intensity behind it.

It was not long after the release of Black Sheets Of Rain that he began to focus instead on the formation of a new band who were to become the most commercially successful project of his long career. Simply named Sugar, this power trio released the absolutely stunning album Copper Blue in 1992. Signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records in the UK, Sugar’s debut hit the top ten, unintentionally surfing the wave of peak grunge (and grabbing my attention immediately – this was where I first discovered Mould’s music as a 16 year old).

After two more UK album chart top ten releases (the 1993 EP Beaster and 1994’s File Under: Easy Listening LP), Sugar split in 1995, with the ever-creatively active Mould releasing an excellent self-titled solo album a year later.

This reflective, sometimes biting record (often also known as Hubcap because of the cover art) was, to an extent, a reaction to the experience of Sugar’s success, being written and performed entirely by Mould alone. My highlight here is the plaintive and melodic Deep Karma Canyon, a song which reinforces his obvious love of sixties pop and chiming guitars.

Several more releases followed before an interesting side-step into electronic music which proved controversial with many of his guitar-loving fans. This perhaps unexpected detour into dance music has meant that Mould has also worked as a club DJ and has remixed a number of dance and alternative acts. His electronica-based album Modulate was released in 2002 to mixed reviews.

However, the solo albums kept coming for the rest of the first decade of the 21st century, with highlights being 2008’s District Line and 2009’s Life And Times (the latter being recorded while he was writing his autobiography), both of which hint at a more unified, relaxed and mature sound without ever losing the intensity and immediacy of his most powerful work.

Both albums still have a suggestion of electronica about them, but both also contain some of Mould’s most assured guitar-based songwriting in years. The highlights from these albums include District Line’s soaring pop-tinged The Silence Between Us and the Byrdsian echoes of Life And Times’ lovely City Lights (Days Go By).

In recent years, it has seemed that many musicians of Bob Mould’s generation have either wound down their careers, or are producing music that is not of the same quality that it perhaps once was. But not Mould. If anything, he seems to be building up a good head of steam when it comes to his most recent albums, with the last two in particular (2012’s Silver Age and this year’s Beauty & Ruin) being amongst his best work to date.

Silver Age picks up where Sugar’s Copper Blue left off, combining an irresistible knack for a melody with the roar of Mould’s distinctive guitar crunch to delicious effect, past and present melding in his sound. You can hear that in the driving riffs of the simply wonderful The Descent and the gleefully sarcastic dissection of the music industry that is Star Machine (both included in the playlist above).

A darker, heavier album perhaps, and certainly one that is painfully aware of its own mortality, Beauty & Ruin, conversely, leans more towards the ferocious noise of Beaster-era Sugar and the spikey, slanted melodies of Hüsker Dü – yet it retains the immediacy of its predecessor.

My highlights here include I Don’t Know You Anymore, a classic slice of chiming, crystalline pop which features that Mould trademark of bleakly bitter lyrics combined with a melody to die for, and the pounding, swirling guitar groove of The War which, like all of Bob Mould’s best songs, will lodge itself in your head and refuse to leave. And really, when they’re as good as this, why would you want them to?

When it comes right down to it, Bob Mould is one of those artists whose influence massively outweighs his record sales. Revered and respected by musicians, critics and music fans alike for his distinctive talents, he has never been a superstar. But that’s not the point. Any artist as distinctive as Mould (and as consistent in his brutally honest and innately powerful approach to his music) is an artist to treasure, chart success or not.

 

Bob Mould Official Site

Bob Mould biography (iTunes)

Toppermost #460 Hüsker Dü

This is Claire’s first post for toppermost, but hardly her first post! She writes regularly about music – and film, photography, art, politics, history, football, comedy, philosophy and a lot more – at Another Kind Of Mind.

TopperPost #357

8 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Sep 27, 2014

    Thank you Claire, I knew you’d do a great job 🙂 Bob has made a habit of lighting up the TV screen when he performs live these days.. unfortunately his performance of The Descent on Letterman has been axed from YouTube, but if it pops up again it is well worth watching: even when Letterman is doing his glad-handing, there’s a slightly disbelieving smile on Bob’s face which says “Wow, we aced that”. This will do as a substitute. And how about The War with Taylor Hawkins of the Foos guesting on drums? Woof.

    • Claire Butler
      Sep 30, 2014

      No problem – it was a real challenge but really interesting to write. Thanks for the video links, I’ll be checking those out! It’s always interesting to see Bob performing live…

  2. David Lewis
    Sep 27, 2014

    Interesting artist and a terrific list: Husker Du is a band who keep coming up, yet eluded mainstream success. Mould is of course a major talent, and in a just world, would be much more well-known. I was struck by the qualities of his songs (and I prefer his work to Husker Du, actually), and I’ll be chasing him up further. Thanks.

    • Claire Butler
      Sep 30, 2014

      Really glad you enjoyed the playlist. I agree with your point about Husker Du and mainstream success – even when they signed to a major label they couldn’t quite get there (although I suspect that may have had something to do with the label not necessarily knowing what to do with them!). Mould’s solo albums are all well worth exploring, there is definitely something to recommend in all of them.

  3. Rob Morgan
    Sep 28, 2014

    An excellent article and a nice way for me to catch up with an artist I’ve slowly lost touch with over the years. I’ll use this as a gateway back into his music (and I’ll probably blast out some Husker Du too) because it sounds like there’s a lot of good stuff I’ve missed. One point – much as I love “Shine a little light” I’d swap it for “Compositions for the young and old” from “Workbook” – an incredible song about remembrance and the recognition of passing time. But that’s just me – I’m a melancholy man 8-).
    PS – you must do Husker Du now, Claire!

    • Claire Butler
      Sep 30, 2014

      ‘Compositions…’ is a great track – but that was the problem with having to choose only a couple of tunes from ‘Workbook’: there are just SO many good tracks on that album! I chose ‘See A Little Light’ partly because it’s an accessible place to start for those who are new to Mould’s music. And as for doing Husker Du now… I think I might be persuaded….!

  4. Calvin Rydbom
    Sep 30, 2014

    I’ve seen Bob twice in the last year. On the Silver tour and just two weeks ago on the Beauty & Ruin tour. Good lord the man can perform and hold a stage, just amazing. Oddly enough a few weeks ago he played a lot of Husker Du, and the last time a lot of solo stuff, including Black Sheets of Rain tracks which he tends to ignore. Great Performer.

  5. Nairn Davidson
    Oct 25, 2014

    Would like to have seen Dreaming I Am in there. Smile brought to the face just for naming an album Blow Off.

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