Years after expressing his rage with power punk trio Husker Du, Bob Mould still has an ax to grind.
If Life And Times, his ninth album in a solo career that began in 1989, is any indication, the angry young man of yesteryear has spiraled into a midlife of madness. And finally, at age 48, it’s time to tell the bitter and brutal truth about his past and present.
While his hardcore exterior and slegehammer instrumentals have softened over the course of a 30-year career, Mould’s feelings apparently have not. His words attack the listener with a vengeance, leaving one to wonder if he needs a refresher course in anger management.
There are only 10 songs on Life And Times, released in April by Anti. And anyone who pays attention to the lyrics should feel a sense of relief that the running time barely exceeds 36 minutes. The intense energy provided by the powerful sounds, refined riffs and masterful strokes gets sucked out by the misery-loves-company prose. Here are just a few of the bad-to-the-bone examples:
• On the opening title track: “Why’d you have to come around and turn my whole world upside down.”
• On “The Breach”: “I know we’re at the end, it’s a lonely road beyond conclusion” and “Can you get off your high horse / this is the end of the ride.”
• With “the taste of last night’s sex in my mouth,” a raspy Mould struggles to get through “Bad Blood Better,” singing “my breath is blood and sweat / choking like a tourniquet.”
• Then there’s a “Wasted World” that’s “so beautiful so full of life pull the plug,” and ending with a wall of wailing guitars and a chorus of “follow me down.”
Now, if you can get past the dark and stormy freight train that barrels through Mould’s moody, wasted world (and that might take some doing), there are moments to cherish.
The exquisite hooks are prevalent and some of the melodies are as sweet as Sugar, the group Mould formed in the early Nineties. “I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More” is a title that’s likely as long as some of the thrash-and-burn songs Husker Du performed when the Minneapolis group began in 1979. Yet it sounds as lovely as anything Mould has written since “See a Little Light” appeared on his solo debut, Workbook.
The concluding “Lifetime” includes its share of bells and whistles and proves his recent brush with electronica isn’t just a passing fancy. Bowie-like vocals and synth-laden keyboards highlight this dreamy, relaxing counterpunch to the manic “Argos,” a 2-minute, 4-second pummeling of the senses written “for my theoretical gay punk rock band,” said Mould, who didn’t openly reveal his sexual identity until the 1990s. Take out the gay references, and “Argos” could have fit perfectly on Husker Du’s landmark double album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories, in 1987.
Mould has grown as a musician over the years, needing only drummer Jon Wurster’s assistance for his latest, recorded in his Washington D.C. home studio, where he added bass, keyboards and percussion to his signature line of blistering guitars.
But there’s no getting past Mould’s damaged psyche, real or fictitious. He may be as well-adjusted as any Guitar God nearing the big 5-0 can be. If this CD focusing on the fragility of relationships isn’t autobiographical, as his publicity material and the album’s title lead you to believe, just imagine what Mould is really thinking.
Those thoughts will arrive in the form of a memoir to be published in 2010. If you're into pain, that should be as pleasurable as watching the dentist grab an ax to perform your root canal.
• For Bob Mould news, song clips, photos and more, go to his website or MySpace page.
• See a review of Bob Mould’s April performance at Coachella at pastemagazine.com.
• See Bob Mould perform "I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More” below: