Release Date: Nov 10, 2017
Record label: Numero
They formed Hüsker Dü in 1979. And by the time the band broke up in the winter of 1987 they had succeeded in redefining the trajectory of indie rock in America - without ever truly breaking into the mainstream. Their seminal early years are collected here in typically meticulously loving fashion by Chicago's Numero Group, marking its 200th release.
For years, the conventional wisdom on Hüsker Dü was that the great Minnesota punk band started out sloppy and monolithic but in time grew into one of the finest and most imaginative acts to emerge from the hardcore movement. After all, a comparison of their debut album, the muddy 1981 live document Land Speed Record, and their first EP for SST Records, 1983's Metal Circus, would suggest that their skills as performers and songwriters grew by leaps and bounds in two years. While there is a certain degree of truth to that, Numero Group's 2017 box set Savage Young Dü offers a valuable corrective to this narrative: yes, Hüsker Dü went through a remarkable evolution in their early years, but they were honestly remarkable right out of the box.
On January 26, 1988, one of the most important contemporary American rock bands came to an end at a kitchen table in St. Paul, Minn. Exhausted from nearly a decade of nonstop touring and recording, compounded by the recent suicide of their manager and, most pressingly, drummer Grant Hart's spiraling heroin addiction, guitarist Bob Mould and bassist Greg Norton sat down with Hart at his parents' house.
The generation immediately superseding them were quick to recognise Hüsker Dü's role in bringing what's since been dubbed "alt rock" to the mainstream. The advert Pixies' frontman Black Francis placed which recruited Kim Deal sought someone into "Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü", while Dave Grohl has emphatically stated: "No Hüsker Dü, no Nirvana." Yet despite such ringing endorsements, this Minnesota trio's achievements have frequently been overlooked by the industry since their demise in 1988. Much of their immaculate canon remains available, but you'd be hard-pushed to find bargain copies of HD's landmark, SST-sponsored titles Zen Arcade, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig.
Any archivist project is informed and stalked by mortality. Earlier this year, Hüsker Dü's Grant Hart asked Numero Group label boss Ken Shipley, regarding Savage Young Dü, "Can you get it out before I go?" Hart died of liver cancer in September, a week after Numero formally announced this years-in-the-making boxset. Perhaps it's self-evident - 56 is a dreadfully young age to check out, even for someone who drove his body like he stole it - but such a tragedy throws this kind of history-raking into sharp focus.