REVIEW: Bob Mould’s Silver Age

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Bob Mould, former frontman of Hüsker Dü and Sugar and all-around punk rock renaissance man released a new album called Silver Age this past week. With this entry into his oeuvre Mould enters his fifth decade as a recording artist. For longtime fans of his work, this album will surely draw you back in as it stands with some of his former bands’ best efforts.


The Distraction:

Bob Mould has long been a staple of alternative rock, so much so that he penned the 1995 anthem “I Hate Alternative Rock” on his eponymous named solo album. He was a member of the legendary Hüsker Dü throughout their turbulent career, went solo for 2 introspective albums and then formed the acclaimed yet short-lived 3-Piece Sugar. From there Mould released 2 more solo records before deciding he wanted to retire from playing music and went to work for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in a creative capacity for a brief period during its waning years (There’s many reason why we love Mould here at MLD, and this is but one of them.) Mould returned to music, but flirted with the club scene and released the electronic-based Modulate, followed by Long Playing Grooves under the Loudbomb pseudonym. Mould had a second life as a DJ with the Blowoff name before returning to his more familiar style with 2005’s Body of Song and several subsequent solo albums followed. Last year, he published his biography See a Little Light. Despite his prolific output, Sugar still held a special place in the hearts of fans as well as Mould, even with having formed in 1992, dissolved by 1994 and leaving behind a scant 2 albums, EP and album of B-Sides. This past June he released re-mastered editions of Sugar’s albums: the seminal Copper Blue and File Under: Easy Listening. By his own admission, going back and revisiting those significant recordings influenced his most recent work.

The Action:

From the opening chords of “Star Machine” this album sets a tone not quite as meditative as some of Mould’s other recent offerings like District Line and Life and Times. In fact, he hasn’t sounded this antagonistic in his approach since his self-titled album. Part of Mould’s original decision to step away from the rock game in 1997 was that he couldn’t see himself playing loud guitar-based music into his forties. Now at 51, Silver Age shows up to rock and Mould sounds as if re-examining some of his greatest moments with Sugar has compelled him to create an album of songs that hangs with that period of his work. The album is relentless and clocks in at under 40 minutes. Each song races along quickly with stick-in-your-head harmonies and Bob’s trademark guitar wall-of-sound blasting away. Many of the songs do recall Sugar songs but not in a derivative manner. There are little flashes that may elicit the melody or feel of an earlier song, but it isn’t a case where Mould is deliberately plagiarizing himself (like how “Come Around” basically begat “Panama City Motel.”) “The Descent” recalls the feel of Sugar’s “Fortune Teller” and “Changes,” “Steam of Hercules” has a very similar feel to Sugar bassist David Barbe’s b-side “Frustration”, “Angels Rearrange” sounds as though it could have come off of File Under: Easy Listening.

While my reviews tend not to focus on lyrical content, it seems that Mould is back to confronting some old ghosts as well. I’ve always enjoyed his sophisticated language, and Mould has always been at his best when he’s taking himself to task and spewing venom like with so much of Hüsker Dü ’s catalog such as “Hardly Getting Over It” and “Friend, You’ve Got to Fall.” There are plenty of turns of a phrase and with songs like “Star Machine”, “Silver Age” and “The Descent” it sounds as if Mould is looking at his career under a magnifying glass. He sings in the “The Descent” that he “didn’t want to play the song that gave people so much hope, turned my back and turned away here’s the rope that made me choke” calling into question his own professional decisions, maybe when he tried to distance himself from creating the music so many people enjoyed.

The rhythm section of Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy should be commended as well. The songs are tight, and while there’s less of an urgency in the performances from those old Hüsker and Sugar records, that obviously should be attributed to the sound that Bob is looking to achieve here.

The album finally settles with the semi-acoustic “First Time Joy”, which does pick up steam after a mellow beginning. Thus far, I feel it is the weakest of the tracks but it’s quite reminiscent to Bob’s recent material and this is a very mild complaint about an overall strong effort.

The Reaction:

Silver Age is a strong album with great songs. Fans of any era of Mould’s work will enjoy it, as well as anyone who enjoys tuneful alternative rock. What are you waiting for? Get this album.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob Mould is performing tonight in Philadelphia at Union Transfer (details below). He’ll be playing the Sugar album Copper Blue in its entirety.

WXPN 88.5 Welcomes
Bob Mould – Copper Blue
with Cymbals Eat Guitars
at Union Transfer

Tue, September 11, 2012
Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 PM
$25 Click for more info.

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