This is part 2 of a beginner’s guide to Bob Mould. In part 2, we start with Sugar and go over to Bob’s first two solo albums later in the post.
You can read part 1 here.
Part 2: Sugar
Sugar is probably the best band of the 90’s that gets no credit. Copper Blue is one of my favorite albums ever and I was lucky to see Bob perform it live in Brooklyn a few years ago.
Leaving behind the trademark Hüsker Dü guitar sound, the album opens with the crunching chords of “The Act We Act”. “A Good Idea” starts with am awesome bass-line that can’t help but get me pumped when I hear it. The anticipation for drums to kick in puts me over the top. Bob’s guitar comes to life and his vocals seem to sound as if he is drowning, just like the subject of the song.
“Changes” has a ringing guitar that really tells you all you need to know about the song: it’s back and forth between dance-y rock with a bit of classic power chord punk. “Helpless” sounds the closest to what Hüsker Dü might sound like had they stuck together into the 90’s. The “big” single from this album, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” is a great acoustic rock song that doesn’t compromise. The last absolute must hear on this album is “Fortune Teller”, a song that had it been recorded a few years prior may have been a case of Bob’s voice to stay in sync with the music. But now he is a seasoned veteran of the studio that forces his rhythm section to keep up.
In the Beaster EP, the name says it all. These five songs just didn’t seem to fit in with “Copper Blue” but were recorded at the same time. As if your ears are being stomped on this is one of the best EP’s ever released. I’m only going to pick what I think are the three best because all five can be exhausting to listen to sequentially. “Judas Cradle”, “JC Auto”, and my favorite, “Feeling Better”. All three sound completely different but still feel like apart of the same album.
The final Sugar album, File Under: Easy Listening, is considered to be mediocre at best and I am afraid I have to agree. The album sounds rushed and not as tight as their previous work. Opening with “Gift” it is a promising start but sadly there isn’t much else that lives up to it. “Gee Angel” could have probably been a hit song for the band but was accompanied by an absolutely terrible music video.
Releasing “Believe What You Are Saying” was also I think a bad idea, trying to capitalize on the acoustic rock of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” The final track “Explode and Make Up” is the song I believe they could have released as it is a beautiful and heartbreaking song. It is my favorite from this album.
Part 3: Bob Mould
Bob’s first solo album, Workbook is beloved by many of his fans. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and to mark the occasion Bob played a handful of dates featuring songs from it and others that fit in.
Having left his bandmates behind and retreating to a farmhouse is rural Minnesota armed with an acoustic guitar, Bob wrote some of his most beautiful songs. The instrumental opener “Sunspots” must have thrown a lot of fans off the first time they ever played the album. You can hear the pain in his voice during “Wishing Well”. “Compositions For The Young and Old” was written for Hüsker Dü and would be very interesting to hear how that version might have sounded.
“See A Little Light” is probably his most well-known song ever, although I must admit I never gave his early solo material a shot until a few years ago after being introduced to this song by a friend.
For his second solo record, Black Sheets of Rain, Bob brought the electric guitars back. The opening title track is pretty epic in length, clocking in at almost eight minutes but it doesn’t feel that long. The extremely catchy “It’s Too Late” managed to make the Modern Rock Top 10 Billboard chart. “The Last Night” is another heartbreaking acoustic number and one of the stronger tracks on this album.
At this point Bob got out of his contract with Virgin Records and went on to form Sugar. When he returned to his solo work in 1996 with the exception of a brief stop as a writer for World Championship Wrestling in 1999.
I am not really a fan of most of his work from this period but a song of his that has probably been heard the most was written during this time. “Dog On Fire”, a song originally intended for his self-titled solo album was given to The Daily Show to use as their theme song although the version currently heard now is a sped up cover by They Might Be Giants.
Writing this article did inspire me to purchase a copy of his 2005 album Body of Song. Billed as his return to rock I have to say I went in with low expectations and was surprised at how good some the songs are. “Circles” sounds like an older and mellower Bob but with still a bit of an edge. “Paralyzed” brings back the jangley guitar of Sugar’s acoustic tracks but mixes in a bit of electronic music. “High Fidelity” is another great ballad and “Missing You” could be a great song but Bob should have maybe done it louder and angrier.
After several missteps, a brief retirement, and a detour through electronic music, Bob signed with Anti- Records in 2008. Something about this must have rejuvenated him because this is where his career resurgence began. Perhaps it was touring with younger musicians that grew up loving his music but you can tell as soon as District Line opens with the track “Stupid Now” that this is something new yet still the Bob Mould fans love. “Shelter Me” blends the electronic music fans scoffed at with a beautiful rock melody to create another late night staple of mine.
The album Life and Times opens with another titular track but this is the turning point of where Bob begins to be self-aware of his age. “I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More” is the type of acoustic rock that Bob’s fans have grown accustomed to and it shines as one of the standout tracks on this album.
Merge Records, the legendary indie label owned by members of the Superchunk, signed Bob in 2012 and along with it came his best album in twenty years. Silver Age is basically a Sugar album with Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster. This is an indie rock supergroup that lives up to expectations.
Kicking off with “Star Machine” you can hear that classic Bob guitar sound but now with the tightest rhythm section he has ever played with. The titular track touches on Bob’s aging but has one of the catchiest verses he written to date. The third track on the album was also the first single and really sold a lot of people that Bob had returned to form; “The Descent” is my favorite song of 2012 and is still leading the current decade after two years, current day musicians you’ve been put on notice that you only have a little over five years left to top this song. If this song had come out in the late 90’s it would have had to be featured at the end of a teen comedy where all the nerdy kids dance with the popular kids. Seriously try listen to it while not to picturing a chubby kid in a tux and prom king crown doing the Walk-Like-An-Egyptian move. It is just that kind of song and sadly they don’t make those types of movies anymore.
Last month Bob released his latest album, Beauty & Ruin. Without a doubt this will be on my top 10 at the end of the year. “I Don’t Know You Anymore” will probably show up on a lot of year end lists for best single and best video; it is departure from the Sugar sound of Silver Age but still vintage Bob Mould with a catchy chorus.
“Kid With Crooked Face” is more fast-paced and Jon Wurster’s drumming really shines on this track. “Hey Mr. Grey” is another song about Bob getting older but is probable quickest track on the record. Lastly, the closing track “Fix It” is probably the best song on the album and already has me looking forward to his next album.
So there you have it. A beginners guide to the career of one of the most influential indie rockers of the past thirty years. Feel free to let me know if you think I missed anything or if you think that I’m completely wrong about any songs I selected.