REVIEW: Bob Mould - Silver Age

If you live in DC, you probably not only know Bob Mould’s music, you’ve probably passed him on the street at some point. But for uninitiated – and because it’s such a unique biography - let’s do a quick review of Mould’s career: He formed Husker Du, one of the most influential rock bands of all time. After they broke up, he pulled a 180 and released Workbook, a mostly-acoustic masterpiece in 1989, then reversed course again and made Black Sheets of Rain in 1990, an album that was perhaps harder and darker than anything Husker Du had done.

Three years later he formed Sugar, whose stellar record Copper Blue remains Mould’s best-selling album to date. He went solo again in 1996, before becoming a scriptwriter for WCW wrestling, then released several more solo albums with a more experimental electronic bent and, with Richard Morel, began DJing at the 9:30 Club under the name Blowoff. He wrote an autobiography, See A Little Light, which is widely regarded as one of the best music memoirs in recent memory. And, lest we forget, he wrote “Dog on Fire,” the theme song to the Daily Show.

All of this is to say that Mould’s new record, Silver Age, could have been anything from new age instrumentals to Nordic folk music and it wouldn’t have been surprising. What you might not have been expecting was a back-to-basics, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll record that’s a perfect combination of everything Mould does well; Husker Du’s aggression, Workbook’s stellar production, and Sugar’s wall of sound. It may, in fact, the best album of his post-Husker Du career.

“Star Machine” kicks off the album in fine form with a guitar riff that calls to mind “Stand Guard” from Black Sheets of Rain. This is vintage Mould; a sparse, distorted riff that instantly balloons and becomes bigger than life, coupled with that unmistakable angry voice. There is no break as the title track – which happily earns a parental warning sticker – kicks up the tempo even more. “This is how I’m gonna spend my days,” sings Mould, “gonna fight, gonna fuck, gonna feed, gonna walk away.”

Mould has always liked working in trios, and here he’s buoyed by the prodigious talents of Verbow bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster – appropriate since this is Mould’s first album on Superchunk’s own label, Merge Records. They provide the most solid backing Mould has enjoyed since Sugar, and on Silver Age they don’t let up. 10 songs, 38 minutes, nonstop allegrissimo.

Even a song like “Briefest Moment,” which feature slightly more gentle vocals, is still a frenetic exercise in scorching guitars and thunderous drums, woven together in a way that Mould had mastered, abandoned, and now rediscovered. Thematically the song hearkens back to the brilliant “Compositions for the Young and Old” on Workbook; on “Compositions” Mould sang “I’d amuse myself when I was small / When I was younger the simplest things would do.” Perhaps writing a memoir jogged similar memories as on “Briefest Moment” he muses “I was a small-town kid with no possessions / And I was bored beyond belief.”

“Keep Believing” is the only track that doesn’t blast out of the gate, but is no less a rocker, centered around a riff that calls to mind Mould’s fellow Minnesotans Soul Asylum’s “Sometime to Return” – perhaps not a coincidence as Mould was close with Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who passed away in 2005.

The closer, “First Time Joy,” is the only time on the record we hear anything other than drums, bass, and guitar, as subtle keyboards add to the ever-building momentum of the tune. “We built this dream,” Mould repeats, and even though the sentiment can’t help but make you think of the current favorite catchphrase of the Republican Party, it’s also a statement on Mould’s incredible career, and the latest fantastic contribution he’s made.