I was a huge fan of everything Bob Mould put out. And then he more or less gave up on music. So I just enjoyed his past and ignored what else he did. But then I heard great reviews of his new album Silver Age. So great in fact, that I couldn’t help but listen to it. And it is amazing. It’s a major return to his punkier roots. The guitars are loud and fast but the melodies are still present. And what’s more important, his voice sounds great and the album is mixed really well–previous Mould records have suffered in production quality. But this is a great great record.
“Star Machine” opens the disc with loud guitars, a simple melody and lots of attitude. I love the repeated “Said It” that appears throughout the song. “Silver Age” is something of a manifesto for Mould. The guitars are harsh and jagged with lots of distortion and the lyrics tell you everything: “Never too old to contain my rage This is how I’m gonna spend my days gonna fight gonna fuck gonna feed gonna walk away.”
“The Descent” is classic Mould–big guitars, great catchy vocals and really nice harmonies/backing vocals. “Briefest Moment” starts with a thudding drum and a sparse fast guitar (which somehow reminds me of Cheap Trick). The bass comes in with a galloping line rather than playing the same notes and it adds a lot of depth to the album. “Steam of Hercules” slows things down a bit but “Fugue State” comes crashing back in with more fast thumping drums and sparse but effective guitars.
“Round the City Square” picks up the noise level and includes a wild guitar solo. “Angels Rearrange” again sounds like classic Mould. While “Keep Believing” has a great bridge that reminds me a lot of Hüsker Dü (yes I mentioned the band that should not be named). “First Time Joy” ends the disc on a gentle note. It’s a ballad (where you can really hear Mould’s voice and how clean and strong it sounds). There’s keyboards on this song that add some nice dimension. By the end the song gets bigger and more powerful, ending on a really strong chord. It’s an awesome return to the rock fold for Mould and I look forward to more from him.
[READ: March 5, 2013] See a Little Light
After getting The Silver Age, I remembered that Mould had written an autobiography and that I’d heard it was quite good. I don’t really read a lot of autobiographies, but my history with Mould is pretty deep and I was curious to see what had happened in his life to make him abandon his rock roots. So I tracked it down. And I really enjoyed it.
The fascinating thing is what a reasonable man Mould presents himself as. I’m not disputing this–I don’t know really anything else about the guy–but every time someone dumps on him, he accepts partial responsibility for the problem and moves on. If he’s really like that, that’s very cool. But he almost seems too nice sometimes.
As I’ve said, I didn’t know much about Mould. My friend Al got me into Hüsker Dü and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’ve bought some of his solo records and all of his band records, but I kind of lost interest in him the last decade or so (during his experimental phase). But I didn’t even really know why Hüsker Dü broke up.
Some interesting things about Bob: he was born numerically gifted–I really enjoyed the section about his childhood and the genius-y stuff he did. Although he had a pretty rough childhood–his older brother died when Bob was young and so Bob was seen as a golden child (especially after something that happened to him which he didn’t learn about until much later). And he started drinking at a very young age.
When he got to college he formed Hüsker Dü with Grant Hart (Greg Norton came a little later). I enjoyed hearing about the early days of Hüsker Dü because I only learned of them much later. And man were they productive! They’d release an album and have new material ready to record before they even toured for the album that came out already. It’s cool reading about the punk scene back in the days before the internet when bands had to rely on each other for support. There’s also a lot of people who Bob name checks and it’s fun to hear all of the punk names again, especially the names of people who are still active. (There’s also some bad vibes against SST, but since this is Mould, the bad vibes are pretty mild).
Over the years of Hüsker Dü there was a conflict between Bob and Grant over who would write more songs and which song would be singles and, of course, over money. There was also an issue of drugs. Bob was a crazy drinking and drug user (he talks about the deterioration of his soft palate, ew) and then one day he gave it all up. But somehow despite the drugs, he functioned well during all that time. But as Hüsker Dü neared its end, Grant had picked up a new habit and caused some friction in the band. Bob insists that the band didn’t break up because of Grant although even the story he presents about the breakup makes it hard to see how it wasn’t Grant’s fault. Greg, meanwhile seemed to be almost a hired gun–he ‘d rather have been golfing, it seems. And although the animosity between them seems lesser now, there will be no reunion, ever.
Then Bob started a solo career. And it had mixed results. But the whole time, he was touring and recording and generally trying to move his life forward. The book has a lot of details about the tours, it is a music autobiography after all–and if you care about that sort of thing, it’s pretty interesting to hear some of the moments when the tours were going well or poorly. I like that he looks back and honestly assesses his older albums, often talking briefly about most of the songs.
Then Bob formed Sugar and had the biggest success of career (I didn’t realize how huge they were). I also didn’t realize that they recorded Beaster (the dark EP) at the same time as Copper Blue (the pretty, poppy album). And then, amazingly, they broke up pretty quickly, too.
Bob identified as gay pretty much all of his life (I had no idea, even if he says it had to be very obvious). He had a big coming-out article in Spin at some point (which I never saw), but he had been more or less out the whole time. He had a boyfriend for most of his career, but he never made a big deal out of it and all of his songs were gender neutral. But when he was publicly outed it allowed him to explore the gay lifestyle and community more, and that’s when he learned about dance music. So there is a lot of material about being gay as well. He talks about wishing he had come out earlier and written songs that were more explicitly gay, but there was no scene back then. He also talks about how much happier he is not that he’s out (and that he identifies as a ‘bear’).
He also decided that he didn’t want to tour anymore, at least not as a guitar based band. So he made a dance album and used some dance effects on a few of his other albums. He also started doing a club show where he DJ’d which was called Blowoff. And he still does the Blowoff gig regularly. I’d like to hear one of these, I wonder if they are online anywhere. (Duh).
And he also started writing for WCW. He’d loved wrestling since he was a kid. He had some inroads with some of the wrestlers and he landed a job doing scripts and plots. It’s a fascinating insight into a scene I knew nothing about. I loved wrestling as a kid, but grew out of it during high school. I appreciated that he says that wrestling is very real–people do get hurt–but that the stories are plotted ahead of time. So it’s a fascinating mixture of real and fake. He left the WCW when a mutiny was happening–which was also pretty fascinating–and just before the WCW got swallowed up by the WWE.
The other fascinating thing is that during all of his time as a musician (except during Hüsker) he was monogamous. He had two decade-long relationships, which is pretty impressive for a musician, and which take up a pretty large portion of the book. They include Bob’s hang ups and insecurities. And, despite the breakups, he wishes both men well.
The album reveals a lot of personal stuff as well–friends he has lost, friends who are no longer friends, and friends who are still with him. And of course, he talks about his emotional state. And Bob Mould, a depressive curmudgeon is pretty happy now. He has a new boyfriend, a new life in San Francisco, a steady gig as a DJ and (since the book came out) an awesome new album. Good for him, and good for us for all the music he’s given us over the years. One of these days I’m going to have to check out Modulate which–even if he says it’s not as good as it could be–now that I’ve read about how he came to make it I think I can appreciate it a lot more.