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Bob Mould - Silver Age

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Artist: Bob Mould

Album: Silver Age

Label: Merge

Review date: Sep. 6, 2012

Bob Mould has been looking back for the last couple of years, first in the process of writing his biography, later as a result of some full-album recreation shows where he plays 1992’s Copper Blue from end to end. It’s the kind of introspection that he mostly skipped during his 1980s Hüsker Dü heyday, and it’s evidently good for him. When I saw Bob Mould a couple of years ago playing a low-key, non-record-promoting kind of show with Chris Brokaw, he was unexpectedly genial, expansive and glad to be there. He played unaccompanied, ranging mostly through his solo material, but also dipping back into Sugar and even Hüsker songs. And in between, he told stories and made jokes about his gayness, a topic that he never touched as a Hüsker and which was an open secret until a 1994 Spin interview with Dennis Cooper outed him. He had, at the time of the show, just finished his book and seemed to have come to terms with his past, his sexuality and his music.

During the course of the evening, he played “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” most likely one of the cuts that Silver Age’s title track is referring to in the line, “I didn’t want to play the songs that gave people so much hope.” However, he played it in an altered, non-jangle pop way that was hardly recognizable. Hey, it’s my song, he seemed to be saying, “I’ll play it the way I want to.” And perhaps even, “You’re lucky that I’m playing it at all.”

Silver Age, Mould’s ninth solo album and the first since 2009’s Life and Times, continues this exploration of the past, embracing the blistering tunefulness that has characterized Mould’s work since Hüsker Dü’s Everything Falls Apart and waxing borderline nostalgic about youth and rage and success and pain. There’s an elegiac mood to Silver Age, though couched in a firestorm of tightly wound guitar aggression.

For instance, “Star Machine” spits and rages on a riff that springs shut like the teeth of a hunting trap (and sounds vaguely like the one in Copper Blue’s “Good Idea”). It’s about an early chapter in the Mould story, one where he’s being eaten alive by the music industry. “You’re leaving family and friends behind, it wasn’t long until you’d lost your mind, the star machine is doing fine, but how are you?” Mould sings angrily, both at himself and the people that led him astray, and burying a sneer at the end of his super melodic turn of phrase. This is one of his signature moves, a lacerating self-loathing slipped into his songs’ most accessible, inevitable hooks, as if the craft of songwriting and his own self-evident skill are things to be denigrated, or at least not taken very seriously.

Silver Age is a very good album, one that recalls, in all the right ways, Mould’s best post-Hüsker work, and in particular his Copper Blue. “Steam of Hercules,” maybe the album’s best cut, is a big, slow-moving beast of a song, radiant, ringing with sustained guitar sound, and punched to a pulp with drums (that’s Jon Wurster; Jason Narducy plays bass). It’s a song built on the enormous scale of, say, “Hoover Dam,” its heft sweetened but not diluted by melody. And yet where “Hoover Dam” was abstract to the point of impersonality, “Steam of Hercules” clearly celebrates Mould’s own life and journey. His real self and his past, which was off limits for all of Hüsker and a good bit of Sugar, is finally part of the narrative, and that’s what makes Silver Age so compelling.

By Jennifer Kelly

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