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Vinyl Tap: Sugar – Copper Blue

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #58:

Sure, this Sugar helps the medicine go down, but not necessarily in the most delightful way. But we wouldn’t have it any other way, or expect it so from guitarist/vocalist front man Bob Mould, taking a respite from his post-punk post-Hüsker Dü solo career as he forms another trio, accessibly blistering and packing a pop-rock wallop, with bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis.

The merger of bracing buzz-saw power punk and manic pop thrill is virtually breathtaking and non-stop from the start of Sugar’s first release, 1992’s Copper Blue. The propulsive assault ‘n’ snarl of the opener “The Act We Act,” centers around kaleidoscopic domestic chaos wherein a culmination of lyrical, instrumental, and vocal power builds with the intensity of a thousand slashing guitars:

    Another big explosion
    Leaving you hoping
    That something that once
    Held you down
    Could leave you feeling
    On the ground…

And the big explosions just keep on coming. In a what-goes-around manner, “A Good Idea” menacingly evokes the Hüsker Dü-influenced Pixies, while the once-bitten theme of the doubly-biting “Changes” is in no way shy of its mark.

Pop-rock infectiousness — even when the lyrics are downbeat the music is upbeat — comes out in full force in the hook-filled “Helpless” and the straight-from-the-sixties “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” all Beatleseque with a Byrdsian bridge. “A part of me stands confused again,” Mould sings — or self-effaces, pre-emo or so — in the rougher-edged “Fortune Teller” — but he’s not too baffled to get the group together for a fab four-minus one “Yeeaah!” harmony to end the tuneful derision.

Though just as melodic, the sense of discombobulation and musical brinksmanship taken by the churning and slightly lysergic “Hoover Dam,” which sees Mould standing on the edge “on the centerline / Right between two states of mind,” is more fully realized by the hear-the-colors see-the-sounds “Slick.” Starting with the click-clacks of a roller-coaster as events seem to subsequently descend into a sonic Boschian E-ticket ride, Mould describes a tragic turn of events as he asks, “Don't you know how it feels / When you're driving your dreams / Through a pole?”

Perhaps a clue comes in the harrowing and propulsive “The Slim,” whose rhythmic repetition and thrust only serve to inculcate the refrain that “I'm left behind / Left behind I'm left behind…”

Back to square one – or at least track one: “Another big explosion / Leaving you hoping…”

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    This is one of the many albums that was stolen from me back in ’95. I never did buy it back but periodically the phrase “standing on the edge of the Hoover dam” gets stuck in my head.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    That whole song is capable of getting stuck in your head. Like now.

    “File Under: Easy Listening” is just as strong. “Besides” is anything but easy, but its anger can be powerful.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Woah . . . how weird. Talk about coincidences, I just picked up, on Monday, a weird little promo of this (on CD, however) this comes paired with a disc called Life Before Sugar. It’s pretty much what you’d expect – Husker Du, Bob Mould, and Mercyland – but it was just a neat little must-have for someone like me who loves this album so much. For $6.99, I could hardly say no.

    And speaking of Besides, if you don’t have the one with the live album, you are missing out! So rough but so great.

    A short-lived band, but there’s no real fluff in their catalog, either.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks for the info, Tom. I absolutely need to seek out that that live ‘Besides’.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    I see it all the time, so I would assume that it’s pretty easy to find everywhere, cheap (I’m talking like $8.) Every time I see a copy, I feel like I need to buy it for those who might be in need.

  • JC Mosquito

    Don’t forget the rest of the Copper Blue sessions, which became the mini-album Beaster. Add that to the Besides cut from the same sessions – wow – what a prolific time in Bob Mould’s life.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Beaster! Thanks for the reminder – I have that hear somewhere!