Release Date: Feb 8, 2019
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
'Sunshine Rock' is former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman Bob Mould's 13th solo album, and his first since moving permanently to Berlin in 2017. After two of his previous three records were written off the back of the death of a parent, he claims to have found a new optimism on life with this album - and with the healthy bite present in the music, it's made explosively clear. The eponymous opening track sets the tone for the rest of the record, as a propulsive drum beat fuels Bob's signature jagged guitar work - while a summery refrain is bolstered by a miniature strings crescendo.
At the end of the '90s, Bob Mould declared he was done with guitar-based rock & roll and he was looking for a new focus for his creative impulses. Two decades later, Mould has not only had a dramatic change of heart about that, he's making some of the best and most powerful rock of his career, while fronting what is arguably the best band he's ever had. The biggest difference between Mould's albums from 2012's Silver Age onward and his iconic work with Hüsker Dü and Sugar is that his songwriting has developed an emotional honesty and personal gravity that, as strong and passionate as his earlier work was, he never quite found before.
Bob Mould gives away the game with the title of Sunshine Rock, his 13th solo album: After several years in darkness, he's ready for the light. Darkness is a comfortable place for Mould, who has spent his career picking at scabs and exorcising demons. But he had extra reasons for gloom earlier this decade, when his parents died in quick succession. On the subsequent Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky, Mould turned inward, meditating on mortality and loss.
13 albums into his solo career and Bob Mould is showing no signs of letting off the gas. Where some artists at this stage of their careers might find themselves coasting or settling into comfortable routines, the one-time Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman, on the other hand, has been experiencing something of a late-career hot streak for nearly a decade now. Ever since turning his attention back to rock music, after pushing back against it for a while in favor of exploring both electronic music and a side gig DJing, the ever-restless Mould has seemingly reconciled with his musical past and his natural ability for creating blistering pop music.
The Lowdown: This decade has so far seen a trilogy of albums — Silver Age , Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky — from former Hüsker Dü singer and guitarist Bob Mould, the latest of which embraced darker and more troubled tones. Sunshine Rock finds Mould rocking a new mindset and a crisp musical identity. A multifaceted exploration of optimism, pessimism, and all of the avenues and back roads that run between them, Sunshine Rock is a record that lives up to its name: at times glowing and reminiscent, at times bright, forward-facing and almost blindingly sharp.
After a run of three outstanding albums in the form of 2012's Silver Age, career-highlight Beauty & Ruin in 2014, and tear-stained gem Patch the Sky in 2016, former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman Bob Mould delivers a brighter, bolder rock record than one might expect at this stage of his storied career. More mid-July heat wave than autumnal chill— Mould here incorporating the word "Sun" into no less than four of the titles of the album's 12 songs, this is a sparking, celebratory album that brings strings to the fore along with a cheery optimism that skirts naivety and is entirely self aware— as on the serotonin-fuelled "Sunny Love Song" in which Mould describes himself as a "polar bear crawling through the jungle" so unused to these joyous feelings of companionship and love is he. Smiling, generous lines like "I feel a cool breeze blowing through my beard" and "I'll bring you with me into the sunshine rock" (both torn from the title track opener) pepper the album; "Thirty Dozen Roses" explodes at breakneck speed, a frantic festival of tokens of love and what they can symbolize— this is about as far as it gets from Black Sheets of Rain.
A man known for his distorted dirges, a sound that reached its breaking point with his second solo record, Black Sheets Of Rain, back in 1990, Mould isn't the sort of artist you'd expect to have 27 variations of the word 'sun' on a 35 minute album. Nor would you expect him to emphatically pronounce, on one of the singles "What Do You Want Me To Do", that "my troubles they are ending". Yet here we are.
With four song titles including variations on the word "sun" and a primary-color lollipop of an album cover that suggests a Top-40 bubblegum collection from the '70s, "Sunshine Rock" (Merge) looks like a head-scratcher of a Bob Mould album. Mould typically delivers a particularly punishing brand of melodic, guitar-based rock that has few equals in recent decades. His previous three albums - all recorded with the excellent rhythm section of drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy - dealt with the fallout from the death of his parents, and reaffirmed his status as a transcendent rock guitarist and singer with a pedigree that includes at least two other indelible power trios, Husker Du and Sugar.