Bob Mould's triumphant return.
I first heard the new Bob Mould album when I was at a bar last fall with a whole bunch of friends. The bartender was playing something over the sound system that sounded good, and though it was loud enough in the place that I couldn't be sure it was Bob Mould, I felt like it was, and what's more that it wasn't something of his that I'd heard before. I had to figure it out, so I approached the bartender, and he told me that it was a new Mould album, "Body of Song," and that several other people had approached him while he was playing it and asked him about it. Apparently, I wasn't the only Mould fan excited to hear that he'd made a new record.
Back in 1998, Bob Mould made a record called "The Last Dog and Pony Show," which was apparently his declaration that he wasn't going to be playing loud guitar rock anymore. His tinnitus was getting too bad, or so the story went, and he just couldn't handle that kind of noise anymore. At first he was doing solo acoustic tours, then he got into playing dance music. He released one record, "Modulate", that was some sort of mix between his rock past and the techno he was more recently getting into, and released another album under the name Loud Bomb that was apparently full-on techno grooves. I never heard either of these--the reviews I read made me think that I wouldn't appreciate them. I was glad he could find enjoyment making records like that, but for my part I figured I'd stick to my Husker Du and Sugar records.
But now, "Body of Song" was a new record that sounded like his old stuff, something I thought he'd never do again. I guess it proves that it's really hard to force yourself not to do something you love, no matter how many obstacles you have to overcome to get there. After all, Roger Miller of Mission of Burma also quit playing loud music because of tinnitus, only to reform Mission of Burma 20 years after the original breakup. Thank goodness for that, and thank goodness Bob Mould couldn't stand to quit making rock records.
"Body of Song" starts off with a sad-sounding, midtempo track called "Circles", and then goes right into "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope", an overtly techno-sounding song with vocoder vocal techniques that sound like what Cher did to her voice on "Believe". That first night, when I went right home after the bar closed and downloaded "Body of Song", I found myself put off by "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope", and figured maybe the reason I had liked the record so much at the bar was partly because I couldn't hear it well. I ended up setting it aside for a few months, after hearing it all the way through only once, and didn't come back to it until reading Jack Rabid's interview with Mould in the new issue of "Big Takeover". Reading the two of them discussing details of the album's creation, as well as Rabid's gushing review of the album, made me excited about listening to it again. When I dug out the album and played it again, I found myself captivated.
"Circles" was the only song I really remembered liking from my first listens, and it's still good, but what I missed is that there are even better songs here. "Paralyzed" in particular grabbed me right away, with its uptempo riffs and the sort of uber-catchy chorus that no one writes better than Bob Mould (how'd I miss this one the first time through the album?). There are definitely elements of dance music throughout the album, as the vocoder from "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope" shows up on a few other tracks as well (though not as overtly as it did on that song). However, I was over-reacting to them the first time I heard the record; they are never in any danger of ruining the songs they appear on, and in fact they're kind of fun and interesting at times. It's nice to see Mould add other colors to his palette, and once you get used to them being there, you may even find yourself enjoying them, as I have. "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope" has really grown on me upon further listens.
There are plenty of other great songs here. "Always Tomorrow" is a quiet, mellow track with soft vocals and electric guitar strumming laid overtop of swirling, ambient keyboard effects and masterful drumming by Fugazi's Brendan Canty, who plays on most of the album. This is one track on which the benefits of Mould's experimentation with techno are immediately evident. Meanwhile, "Missing You" is the kind of distorted pop gem that Mould excels at, harking back to songs like "Gee Angel" and "Could You Be the One", and "Underneath Days" has the sort of moody, minor-chord pounding that typified previous Mould classics like "The Slim" or "Standing In The Rain". "Best Thing" is the kind of upbeat rock tune that Sugar in particular did really well, and it even features David Barbe of Sugar on bass. Pretty much every song is masterfully written, and there was a time when we'd expect no less from Mould. However, in recent years when it's seemed like he's getting away from writing songs in the standard rock mode, it's a welcome surprise to get an amazing record like "Body of Song". Hopefully, he won't wait eight more years before he makes another one.