Sometimes I See You In The Water

Back to Bob Mould to end the week. In 1992 Bob formed Sugar with Dave Barbe and Malcolm Travis. His first two solo albums- Workbook and Black Sheets Of Rain- hadn’t sold well and Virgin let him go. Back in a trio and released from his record contract Bob found a rich vein of form, working out of R.E.M.’s rehearsal room in Athens, Georgia and within the year Sugar played live, recorded two albums and signed to Creation in the UK (then on the crest of a post-Screamadelica, Bandwagonesque and Loveless wave). The first album, Copper Blue, came out and was an immediate hit, album of the year in the NME and spawned several singles.

Copper Blue doesn’t have a weak moment, showcasing ten first rate Bob Mould songs. The production is fuller than it was with Husker Du, the drums and bass bigger and chuggier. The guitars fill up more space, crunchy and melodic. In the wake of Nirvana’s success there was a crowd ready for more punk with choruses and suddenly Sugar found an audience. A year earlier Bob couldn’t get arrested. The second song- A Good Idea- is a tale of two lovers down by the river, on a warm summer night where ‘the air is thick with the smell of temptation’. They go in to the water at his suggestion- ‘why don’t we lay in the water? Let the water run over me…’ he says and she replies ‘that’s a good idea’.  Inevitable tragedy ensues, she submerged beneath the surface, temptation turning to death by drowning.

A Good Idea

You’re Gonna Make It After All

Bob Mould at Manchester Academy 2 on Sunday night, twenty years after I last saw him play there. Back in 1998 he played almost entirely solo stuff, promoting his then new record The Last Dog And Pony Show, with just a Sugar song held back for the encore. This time around, promoting his current new album Sunshine Rock, he plays songs from the last forty years of playing and making records, from their earliest recordings to his latest. Backed by a high kicking bassist and a drummer engaged in a one man war of attrition with his snare drum Bob hits the stage loud and fast and doesn’t really let up. His guitar/pedals/twin amp set up makes Bob sound like two or three guitarists and it’s loud, really loud, with those crystalline melodies fired off within the sheets of distorted riffs. There are few gaps between the songs, no light show to speak of, no projections or backdrop- just songs from the Bob Mould back catalogue. He opens with 2014 song The War and then blasts straight into Sugar’s A Good Idea, the bass riff on its own for a few seconds before being submerged in Bob’s wall of guitars. Three songs in and we’re into I Apologise off Husker Du’s 1985 New Day Rising. There is then a liberal smattering of songs from Sunshine Rock, Bob’s self-willed optimistic, happy album, an album written in the aftermath of the death of both parents and Husker drummer Grant Hart, songs like Thirty Dozen Roses and Sin King, and highlights from Sugar’s 1992 album Copper Blue (Hoover Dam sounds enormous, bigger than the guitars and keyboards of the album version). People around me are adjusting their earplugs. Husker Du’s 1982 hardcore single In A Free Land has been dusted down and in Trump’s wake sounds no less relevant and no less alive. Bob has been unwell in recent days and on antibiotics for a chest infection, not that you’d guess- Sugar’s If I Can’t Change Your Mind roaring out of the amps, noise plus melodies, punk plus chorsues. He pauses three quarters of the way through to thank us for coming and introduce Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster on bass and drums and then its back to business. Something I Learned Today, one of Husker Du’s most vital songs, is a ferocious blast, spitting fire and piss and from this point, for the final fifteen minutes or so Bob and band go off setlist, launching into one Husker Du song after another, almost a medley- Chartered Trips, their cover of The Mary Tyler Moore theme Love Is All Around Us, a beautiful and raging Celebrated Summer with Bob stretching out the pause into the guitar picking section at the end, finishing with Makes No Sense At All, the single that paved the way for Pixies and Nirvana to name but two. No encore. Lights on. Ears ringing. Home.

Chartered Trips

Moving Trucks

Bob Mould has a new single out (and an album to follow and a tour next year). Following the deaths of both parents Bob was self aware enough to know that this could lead to a bleak Bob Mould album (and you only have to listen to Black Sheets Of rain for instance to know that Bob can do bleak). He forced himself to write positive songs. Sunshine Rock sounds just like an upbeat Bob Mould song should, ringing guitars, surging chords, that vocal tone, but when the strings come in towards the end, it all shifts up again.

I’ve dipped in and out of Bob’s solo career, more out than in recently, but there’s always something worth rediscovering. Twenty years ago he was on Creation and put out The Last Dog And Pony Show. This song is a keeper, the tale of a man watching his partner pack up and leave and then using the break up as a way to move forward, ‘no moving trucks to hold me down’.

Moving Trucks

Grant Hart

I was deeply saddened yesterday by the news that Grant Hart had died aged 56. It seems a bit silly to be actually saddened by the death of a musician you’ve never even met but there you go. Husker Du are a band whose songs and albums hold a place close to heart. Someone once said that Bob Mould’s songs in Husker Du were more consistently excellent but Grant’s peaks were peakier and it’s easy to roll off a list of Grant Hart songs that completely hit the spot- The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill, Books About UFOs, Green Eyes, Keep Hanging On, Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely, Pink Turns To Blue, Turn On The News, She’s A Woman (And Now He Is A Man), Sorry Somehow, Never Talking To You Again, Flexible Flyer, She Floated Away…

Grant Hart was the hippie in a hardcore band- long hair, love beads, drumming with bare feet- who realised early on that drumming in a hardcore band could end up being pretty boring if that was all he did. So they became much more than a hardcore band, spearheading indie-punk through the 80s, paving the way for others to follow. Grant Hart was a drummer who knew how to write melodies and a songwriter who mainly dealt with the heavy stuff, but could cover it with shards of light. He took much of the blame for the break up of the band but he seemed to be the easy one to blame- he didn’t hide his problems with drugs. His first solo album Intolerance is open about it. His post-Husker Du albums are full of great songs too- 2541, You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water, She Can See The Angels Coming, The Main, My Regrets, Admiral Of The Sea- all come close to his Husker songs and pack an emotional punch. Grant and Bob were estranged for much of the rest of Grant’s life, appearing together only once to play two Du songs. They seem to have become more reconciled recently, communication opening up with a band agreed website to sell merchandise and a box set of their early works coming out in November. Their SST recordings still belong to SST who don’t seem to want to sell. And they should, so something right and proper can be done with the back catalogue.

Last year I wrote a Husker Du ICA for The Vinyl Villain- you can read it here. I named my 10 track compilation after one of Grant’s songs, Keep Hanging On (a song from Flip Your Wig) and used it to close my imaginary record. This is what I said about Keep Hanging On and I stand by every word even more now…

Keep Hanging On- there are so many songs I could or maybe should have closed this album with but this one always hits me right there. From Flip You Wig, buried away towards the end of side 2, the guitars are deliciously distorted, Greg’s bass builds, the drums thump and Grant sings his heart out. His voice sounds like he is just about hanging on but ultimately this is uplifting, life affirming stuff.

Only angels have wings, girl
And poets have all the words
The earth belongs to the two of us
And the sky belongs to the birds

You’ve given me so much happiness
That I’ll wrap up and give you this song
You gotta grab it with both hands
You gotta keep hanging on’

Thank you for all the songs Grant. They mean so much.

Bob Mould put this tribute on his Facebook page yesterday morning-

‘It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.

The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.

We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. We stayed in contact over the next 29 years — sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.
The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world.
Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.’

Come Around

I wrote a piece for The Vinyl Villain’s Imaginary Compilation album series, ten Husker Du songs to brighten up your life. It’s here. I also found this, a remastered version of Zen Arcade’s opening song. The Youtube poster who put it up had done the new version himself, brought the bass up and balanced out Spot’s trebly mix. A very good job done.

Something I Learned Today

At around the same time a friend reminded me of Bob’s 90s band Sugar and their 1993 ep Beaster. Having signed to Creation and got some genuine success with Copper Blue they put out Beaster as a follow up The six songs on Beaster were recorded at the same time as Copper Blue but stand out as distinctively different- the guitars are heavier and denser. Very dense. Like other Bob Mould records (like Zen Arcade) Beaster was a kind of concept record and had a lot of religious imagery. Opener Come Around comes around slowly with bright acoustic guitar but then the Les Paul and Marshall stack kicks in, along with Bob’s deliberately difficult to make out vocals.

Come Around

Celebrated Summer

The action and success at the velodrome in Rio over the last few days has been unmissable, edge of the seat stuff. Laura Trott, Becky James, Katy Marchant, Jason Kenny, Bradley Wiggins, Owain Doull, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Katie Archibald, Joanna Rowsell Shand, Elinor Barker, Callum Skinner, Mark Cavendish- all truly something else.

Husker Du’s Celebrated Summer, fifth track on 1985’s New Day Rising, is a peak by a band with many, many peaks. The opening burst of guitar followed by thumping drums and bass raise the hairs on the back of the neck and the 12 string acoustic guitar breakdown in the middle and at the end show Bob Mould wasn’t going to be hemmed in by hardcore’s rules. Breaking out and breaking through. Melody combined with their ferocious energy. The lyrics, as so often with the Huskers, suggest something gone, something lost, the summers of youth- was that your celebrated summer?

A Level results today for my students. More tension and hopefully more celebrations.

Celebrated Summer

It’s Not Peculiar

I was involved in an online discussion a few days back about Husker Du- a friend put forward the suggestion that their cover of The Byrds’ Eight Miles High was their best song. Debate ensued with some agreement but also a reluctance to say that their best song as a cover, especially with a pair of songwriters as gifted as Bob Mould and Grant Hart.

Their last album, Warehouse: Songs And Stories (from 1987), also caused some discussion. Made as the band were getting fully on each other’s nerves (they split shortly after), Grant and Bob’s songs alternate across the four sides of vinyl, with Bob getting the upper hand numerically (deliberately according to both Bob and Grant). Grant was in the grips of heroin and his drumming is a little untogether on the record while at the same time Bob has audibly stepped up his song writing. The guitar playing is a blitz throughout, jagged shards and buzzes of feedback, the melodies chiming through. The dynamics of the songs are intense too- slow build ups, faster tempo choruses, fade ins and outs, clanging chords after the song has finished. I could pick any of Bob’s songs off Warehouse to illustrate the strength and depth of his talents. This one will do nicely.

It’s Not Peculiar

And just in case you were wondering whether he still has it, he does. This is from his newest solo album Patch The Sky- less angry maybe, more at peace with himself, but no less contrary.

Sugar And Mould

Brian at Linear Tracking Lives is counting down his top hundred songs of the 1990s and included a song by Bob Mould’s post-Husker Du power trio Sugar, off their final lp FUEL (File Under Easy Listening). Round these parts Copper Blue is the Sugar album to go to, brilliant from start to finish, but Brian did send me back to FUEL and this song which I always loved. Your Favourite Thing has one of those masterly, fluid Bob Mould guitar riffs that he can knock out in his sleep but other guitarists can only dream of.

Your Favourite Thing

You Can Live At Home

We’ve had precious few guitars here recently so here’s a blast of Husker Du’s indie-punk perfection, what turned out to be their last recorded notes. By 1987 the Huskers were thoroughly fed up with each other and the band. During the making of Warehouse: Songs and Stories Bob Mould told Grant Hart he would never have more than half the songs on any Husker Du album and true to his word Bob’s tunes outnumber Grant’s again. They sequenced the twenty songs alternately by writer but the last song is Grant’s. You Can Live At Home is mini-punk epic, with shards of guitar and echo laden vox. Mould hits a chord around the two minute mark that sends shivers up and the spine and the long coda fade out sees the two men vie for the final word on Husker Du, Bob soloing away and feeding back while Grant repeats the song title over and over. It is as good as they ever were (the Husker Du purists would disagree with me on this one. Warehouse came out on Warners. Sell outs and punk traitors y’see).

If it sounds a little tinny and small, this is what small bands with small budgets sounded like in 87- the radio loudness wars and punchy digital sound were years off. It’ll shrink sonically in comparison to other stuff if you play it on shuffle. But it’ll sound better. Husker Du were real one offs. Truly, there is no other band who could combine 60s idealism and writing, 80s punk, and melodies like this one could.

You Can Live At Home

>I’m On The Centreline, Right Between Two States Of Mind

The other half of Husker Du’s songwriters was Bob Mould, who had the more successful solo career. Sugar hit the big time with Copper Blue (on Creation in the early 90s), Workbook and a string of solo abums sold well and were highly rated, he took time out to write WWF scripts for TV (wrestling not wildife), and he did some housey electronic stuff (which bamboozled some of his fans). Recent interviews suggest he’s mellowed a bit from the slightly dour figure he was. I like Bob Mould even if some of his solo albums can be hard work.

This is Hoover Dam, from Copper Blue- full of crunching guitar, melodrama and some strangely cheesy 80s keyboards. Turn it up.