Release Date: Jun 3, 2014
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Legends like Bob Mould are held to a different standard, which is fair enough. Through his work in Hüsker Dü, Sugar, and under his own name, Mould has built up enough goodwill and sweat equity in his three-and-a-half-decade career that whatever he’s done of late has been greeted with admiration, at the very least. Yet considering that his reputation doesn’t just him precede him, but casts such a long shadow, Mould is also the kind of legacy artist whose more recent recordings can be easy to overlook with respectful appreciation, with the implication being that he’s past the prime that made him who is.
Pre-dating Kurt Cobain, Frank Black and all the others, alternative-rock elder statesman Bob Mould was, in the mid ’80s, at the forefront of that musical genre’s evolution. With Hüsker Dü, and then Sugar, he helped forge a path for the loud, stripped-down, guitar-based anthems that would propagate the media and (sometimes) the airwaves for over a decade. While Cobain exited tragically, and the media turned its back to more mainstream, “Nickelback’s best mid-tempo rockers!” fare, Mould continued to make ass-kicking post-punk.
Good ol’ Bob Mould has lived through a fair handful of public lives over the years. The furious but tuneful firebrand leader of Hüsker Dü in the Eighties ; the acoustic songsmith of Workbook; the re-invented power-pop hero of Sugar in the Nineties; an experimental dance DJ and remixer during the mid-Noughties; successful autobiographical author; hell, he even palled around with Kevin Nash while writing for WCW wrestling back in the day. It seems, after 2012’s powerhouse album Silver Age, Mould has decided this is as good a time as any to take stock of this three decade journey, dissect the past, give an account of the present and project into the future.
There is a tension within the title of Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould's tenth solo album, a tension that can also be heard in the music. Written and recorded in the wake of the death of Mould's somewhat estranged father, Beauty & Ruin is a heavier album than its predecessor Silver Age in both emotional and musical terms. Where that 2012 record was a reaffirmation of his strengths, a happy reclamation of all the blaring, candied punk-pop rush of Sugar, this digs deeper, finding room for the churning introspection of Beaster and a bit of the furious mania of prime Hüsker Dü.
When Bob Mould released his 2012 album Silver Age, he described it as a companion piece to Copper Blue, an album he had released 20 years earlier with his power-pop trio Sugar. Where Silver Age was a blast of pure energy that Mould unleashed after the lengthy, disciplined process of writing his memoir, his new album, Beauty & Ruin, pauses to reflect, if someone rocketing through full-bore songs at maximum volume and with considerable fury can be described as pausing. He’s definitely reflecting: these 12 songs parse grief and loss, and begin to consider the idea of mortality in a way Mould never has before.
Sometimes, album covers lend nothing towards the content lurking beneath. But here, the image of a younger, brooding, smoking Bob Mould of the Husker Dü days fading into the older yet equally intense version of himself is rather evocative. You instantly sense there’s something here about the passing of time. There is a lot for Mould to contemplate.
This year has seen the 25th-anniversary reissue of Bob Mould’s solo debut, 1989’s Workbook, a release that helped put his alternatingly brilliant and muddled post-Hüsker Dü career in perspective. On the heels of the Workbook reissue comes Beauty & Ruin, Mould's eleventh solo album and his second with the monstrous rhythm section of bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk/Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster. By all accounts, Mould is on a roll: His 2011 autobiography, See a Little Light, went past being an illuminating read to the point where it felt like a work of catharsis for its author.
Bob Mould can't stop/won't stop. Just two years after Silver Age and the Sugar reissues, he's back again with another new solo record, 12–track self–reflection entitled Beauty & Ruin. It's yet another collection of catchy, guitar–driven indie rock, continuing the creative resurgence he's enjoyed since 2005's Body of Song.In addition to his overall consistency as a songwriter, Mould has shown quite a bit of stylistic reach over his last several albums.
The past few years have seen Bob Mould return to his hard-rockin' ways. His dalliance with dance music is a thing of a past, and for fans of Hüsker Dü and Sugar, this record is a welcome to return to the heavier periods of both Mould-fronted outfits..
Bob Mould had me at the fogged glasses. Watching the former Hüsker Dü frontman, now in his early fifties, thrash across a KEXP Bumbershoot stage last year with a young man’s fervor, partially blinded by the sweat droplets cascading down his now-bald head and collecting on his lenses, I remember thinking to myself, Here’s a guy who’s figured out how to age about as gracefully as life permits. Really, that’s what makes Mould’s 2012 downer, Silver Age, surprisingly uplifting.
Though he claims that he's "out of inspiration" on the searing "Fix It," Bob Mould is anything but on his 11th solo album. The former Sugar and Hüsker Dü frontman sounds fully invigorated here, perhaps fueled by the weighty subject matter: the death of his father – whose alcoholism and violence Mould chronicles in his 2011 memoir – and his own grappling with mortality. Backed by bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster, Mould rips through 12 bristling guitar-pop tracks that, at their propulsive and tuneful best (the Sugar-y "I Don't Know You Anymore," the Hüskers-worthy "Kid With Crooked Face"), recall the classic eras of his much-loved former bands.
Looking stately as a godfather of grunge with his shorn head and professorial glasses, Bob Mould isn’t at the point of his career where people typically make genuinely great rock songs. He could be making quieter acoustic albums and doing NPR interviews about a mellower life; he could be the former punk-gone-folkie from Minneapolis that Jonathan Franzen created in his novel Freedom. The former Hüsker Dü guitarist and vocalist came precariously close to that on 2009’s Life and Times.
Recent years have been kind to Bob Mould. As well as the noticeably increasing influence his work holds over new generations of indie-rockers, he has released a well-received autobiography, been at the centre of a tribute concert featuring superfans Ryan Adams and Dave Grohl, and now follows up 2012’s acclaimed Silver Age with yet another strong set of original material. Beauty And Ruin feels like the most stereotypically Bob Mould album in a long while.
It's rather unfair on Bob Mould – a storied and varied artist – but much of the last 20 years of his output has been subject to the Sugar test. It has often come up short. Is Beauty & Ruin, his 11th solo album, as good as Sugar, the feted 90s band Mould fronted after his seminal 80s punk band, Hüsker Dü, fell apart? Yes, it is, if you miss the churning post-hardcore melodics of old, a sound that Mould struggled to outgrow before re-embracing it for 2012's Silver Age.
Bob Mould – hero to everyone from Dave Grohl to Billie Joe Armstrong – can’t help but remind us of the overwhelming influence he’s had. Opening his 11th solo album with the Dinosaur Jr sludge of ‘Low Season’, he harks back to the days when he ruled the American underground with Hüsker Dü. ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’ is the song a million pop-punk bands dreamed of writing, while ‘The War’ exists to remind fuzzy revivalists like Cheatahs who’s sitting at the top of the grunge family tree.
The cover of Beauty & Ruin pairs a younger Bob Mould with the current grizzled and grey-bearded one, showcasing the physical evolution of the former Hüsker Dü frontman. Musically though, the artist's retained his youth: on his latest release, his driving, hook-laden punk rock is as precise as always. Inspired in no small part by his father's death in 2012, there's definite fury on the record, heard especially in the stomping, moody opener Low Season.
It can't be easy being Bob Mould. For a guy who's had such an enormous impact on alt rock, there's a palpable sense that his standing in popular music's canon isn't what it should be, with the press release (actually, make that full-scale essay) that accompanies his latest album describing him as "a survivor who refuses to give up", a man who "chooses to confront head-on […] the psychic turbulence that comes with this stage of life." Whoa. This impression of a man undergoing some kind of existential crisis is reinforced by Beauty & Ruin's sleeve picture of a grizzled but defiant Mould – looking not unlike Breaking Bad's Walter White – juxtaposed with a photo of his younger self as an intense, cigarette-smoking aesthete.
Where Bob Mould’s last album, the bracingly intimate “Silver Age,” erupted with sharp, cathartic guitar chords, “Low Season” kicks off the new “Beauty & Ruin” at a glowering simmer. It’s a low, slow burn of a record where even songs that burst out of the gate with nervous, explosive energy, like “Little Glass Pill” and “Kid With Crooked Face,” have a darker, more subdued cast. Part of that comes from Mould’s voice, which is positioned far enough back in the mix that he seems distant even when he’s howling.
?Having first risen to prominence as the lynchpin of alt-rock titans Husker Du, Bob Mould is, if not quite an unsung hero, certainly deserving of a little more recognition than he is often afforded by the casual music fan. His band was one of the most vital acts to emerge from the creative hotbed that was the American college-rock in the 1980s, seamlessly combining the energy of hardcore punk with impeccable pop nous and eventually proving to be a huge influence on the grunge movement that exploded in their wake. Although the likes of REM and The Replacements received far more commercial success, Husker Du remain one of the scene’s most enduring groups.
Credit Bob Mould with some truth in advertising. Beauty and Ruin, a title that suggest a collision of polar opposites, aptly describes Mould’s signature blend of melody and mayhem, a patented approach created early on with his seminal outfits Husker Du and Sugar. While the former foresaw the rise of grunge and the latter signaled a new breed of post punk ferocity (each in their own way helping to set the stage for the Pixies and the Foo Fighters), Mould’s frequently meandered in his solo endeavors, delving into dance, electronica and deejaying, penning his memoirs, and pursuing his interest in professional wrestling.
Bob Mould has spent quite a bit of time examining his back catalog during the last few years. He performed Sugar’s landmark ’92 record, Copper Blue, in its entirety during a series of concerts, and recently unearthed cuts from his ’89 solo debut, Workbook, in support of a reissue. For many artists, such a look back would be stultifying; for the ageless 53-year-old, revisiting the past has a galvanizing effect on his new music.
Bob Mould — Beauty & Ruin (Merge)Beauty & Ruin is Bob Mould’s catchiest, most tuneful album since Copper Blue, full of ear-wormy melodies and bouncy hooks. Yes, those melodies are wreathed in firestorms of guitar sound, and yes, they often end their lines in a sneer, but if you’ve been looking for a Mould album that you can sing in the shower, here it is.And yet, while it sounds like a particularly hard-edged, punk-infused pop record, Beauty & Ruin is hardly bubblegum. Written in the aftermath of Mould’s father’s death, the album starts in bleakness and struggles visibly towards resolution.