Friday, June 3, 2011

Bob Mould top 10

I've been pretty excited for a while now about the upcoming release of Bob Mould's autobiography (non-Bob Mould fans, stop reading now - there is nothing here for you). The reviews have started to come out and for the most part, they are pretty positive. I was reading a review by this guy and noticed that he'd compiled a top 10 Bob Mould essential listening list. Not to say that this guy is wrong but he is wrong. Rather than list albums, here are the songs you should hear which cover all bases of Mould's career from punk pioneer to despairing misanthrope to super pop merchant (be aware that even when writing this I changed the songs about twenty times so this is less than definitive):

Something I Learned Today - Zen Arcade (Hüsker Dü): The opening track on the seminal Zen Arcade, this highlights Bob's hoarse growl before he began to sing rather than scream. It also highlights his buzzsaw guitar sound and even though Grant Hart's drums sound like he's playing cardboard boxes, the song has an urgency and passion that sets the tone for the entire album.

I Apologize - New Day Rising (Hüsker Dü): In the year between Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, Mould's singing voice is infinitely improved and with great backing vocals from Hart, I think this is the blueprint for Mould's pure pop songs in the future.

Up in the Air - Warehouse: Songs And Stories (Hüsker Dü): While a number of Hüsker fans hate Warehouse, I think there are some great songs on here. The simple guitar motif recalls the 60's pop Mould adored and the sheer joy that this song exudes is amazing. Although, when you listen to the lyrics it's pretty obvious Mould is putting Grant Hart down:

Poor bird flies up in the air, never getting anywhere
And how much misery can one soul take?
Trying to fly away might have been your first mistake

Yeah, those guys really hated each other....

Whichever the way the wind blows - Workbook (solo): Bob's first solo album was a million miles from Hüsker Dü and was filled acoustic guitars, cellos and strings. Rightfully revered by fans, what most people weren't prepared for was the final song Whichever way the wind blows. Whatever inner turmoil Mould was struggling with at the time, this song is a primal cry of nihilism - all jagged guitars that scream and fight for attention, it can be a tough listen. This song was the precursor to Mould's bleakest work, Black Sheets of Rain which took this template and ran it into oblivion.

Walls in time - The calm before the storm (solo): It'd be very easy to choose Too Far Down or Hardly Getting Over It as a prime example of Mould's ability to unleash a beautiful acoustic ballad but I've always found this song very affecting. It doesn't really have a chorus as such but it is a beautiful song about love and loss. This song was released officially on District Line a couple of years ago but the version on this bootleg with just Bob and his guitar remains the definitive version to my ears.

Changes - Copper Blue (Sugar): Mould struck gold with Sugar gaining widespread acclaim and actual music sales which befitted one of the best pop albums of the 90's. All ringing guitars and solid hooks, Changes is one of the best songs of the indie tide that turned at that time. It also highlights Mould's ongoing inability to release a good video.

JC Auto - Beaster (Sugar): The flip side of Copper Blue was the ep Beaster where the summery pop of the former was melded with the darkness of the Black Sheets era. I have a bootleg of this song and it sounds as if the band is either going to explode or start attacking the crowd, probably both at the same time. Frightening.

Best Thing - Body of Song (solo): I think Body of Song is probably one of Bob's most consistent albums even if he does use more of the electronics he's been favouring in the later DJ years. Best Thing is the quintessential Bob song, the major theme being I wanted to be with you, you didn't want me and now I'm sad - urm by the way, fuck off because I'm way to good for you anyhow.

Very Temporary - District Line (solo): This is a gem towards the end of the District Line record. Just pure pop perfection - a million bands couldn't write a song this good.

The Breach - Life and Times (solo): This song immediately struck me when I heard it. The narrative is essentially an argument between two people, one slightly calm and the other is mad as hell. The push and pull between the eventual eruption of rage is mesmerising.

Good old Bob, can't wait to read the book.



  1. Of Course, I'd have some different selections. So, no insult intended, but I'm rather bemused by the more popular opinion that you and most others have that Body of Song is a better Bob Mould album than most. Granted, it's the last record he put out that I like whole-heartedly, but (and I know I'm way in the minority, here) I thought Modulate was so very much stronger. Now, Bob's put out only one record I didn't like- and that's Life and Times, but I liked the "Disco Bob" phase, which all kinds of folks really seem to hate. My Loudbomb cd has been threatened with destruction so many times by friends who claim to be Mould fans, and want to break my CD for "my own good", but I both would rather, and actually do, listen to that release than the post-modulate "mature Bob" stuff. Seriously, more and more, he's sounding like incidental music for some reality show- which, yes, I know, is his Day job. So, yes, I'm an ultra fan- heck I literally got my script logo MXR distortion + from Bob, but I don't quite understand that majority of Bob fans. Why would they want him to go so bland and mainstream, rather than follow his muse, even if that leads him to disco?

  2. Part 1: You're right, I woke up this morning and could select 10 totally different songs and it was remiss of me to not mention one of the electronic Bob songs. However, when I think of Bob's work I like electronic Bob less which still means I like it a lot. But as an ultra fan myself, I have to disagree with you on Modulate.

    Firstly, I have to confess when I first heard Modulate I hated it but after seeing Bob play live on that tour it made a lot more sense to me. I think there are some strong songs on there (my faves being The Receipt, Lost Zoloft and Soundonsound) but it is really let down by its production which I find distracting. True, Bob was following his muse and experimenting with new equipment/sounds but it sounds to me like he just crammed as much stuff onto each song as he could. He has said recently that he felt this lack of experience using that kind of sound let that album down and I'd agree - it's be interesting to hear him make that record now and how it would sound. It's less to do with the songs than the overall sound of the album. When it was live and pared back to guitar and beats - you could hear the quality of the writing but the album doesn't work for me. I don't think that makes me any less a fan, just a subjective opinion.

    Trust me, there are songs I like a lot less that anything on Modulate - Granny Cool being the worst I feel. If you're going to make a song about hating Kim Gordan at least make it rocking and nasty not some plodding, middling go nowhere song.

    Now there are other albums where I would question the production sound. Do I love the Hubcap record? Undoubtedly. Does it bother me he used a drum machine? Yes it does - I think that album would have sounded a lot fuller with a real drummer. That's not to say I'm against drum machines but for that album it's very obvious. In the end, I don't mind it because it adds to the chilly aesthetic of the record but following on from Malcolm Travis with a drum machine felt like a bad move.

    Now, I will champion Body of Song because it is an album I can listen to back to front and not skip a song. I like them all and I think the balance between guitars and electronics is pretty spot on. I think I made a snarky comment about DJ Bob when I mentioned this and in the context of the album (Shine Your) Love Light Hope is great but I'm going to presumptuous here and say that I don't think any Bob Mould fan would say it's their favourite ever song. I just think it's a really strong album and an enjoyable listen. I don't find anything workman like about it and Bob sounds totally inspired. That being said, my favourite song is actually Surveyors and Cranes from the b-sides disc so what do I know?

  3. Part 2: I think you're right that Bob has to follow his muse because if Modulate hadn't happened, I don't think Body of Song would have sounded the way it did. Bob said a similar thing with Megamanic on Last Dog. He was having trouble finishing the record and got inspired by experimenting with a sampler. He said if that didn't happen the record would never have been released. Now Megamanic is pretty terrible but vitally important in many respects in the continuing Bob story.

    As for Life and Times, I agree that it is one of his weaker albums but I think there's at least three good tracks and a few ok one's and a couple of duds. It does sound slightly day job-ish but I think District Line was similarly solid but not an overly amazing album. I'm all for Bob following his muse (even if it's disco and yes, I own both the Blow Off and Loudbomb records and listen to them) because to use Last Dog as an example, there are some pretty average Bob songs towards the end of that record (Vaporub the worst I think).

    Now an average Bob song is still pretty great and if he released album of him burping the national anthem I'd still buy it and no doubt defend it. Modulate is pivotal to revitalising Bob as an artist so it's an important album but just not one of my favourites. I would never want him to go bland and mainstream but ultimately I think Bob just does what he likes regardless of what anyone thinks. If the future is Disco Bob, I'll get my dancing shoes on...

  4. Nice!
    Fair enough, and I think I understand where you're coming from, which is better than I can say for most defenses of the latter Day Bob Mould output.
    In part one, I actually enjoy hearing Bob experiment. As clunky as the drum machine was on the Hubcap, it was a part of what made the record interesting for me. I know Bob can literally fart out 10 Hoover Dam styled pop rock songs, even if backed by studio hacks (witness Black sheets) so, the interest lies in any attempt to bring his singular vision into new arenas. So, does Modulate sound experimental? Yuppers. But I'm good with that, and yes, it does gel better in some parts than others. And, I actually like Granny Cool- I think it's about me, actually. Some boring old fart who embarrasses everyone by being a bit to dated for the room. In that same spirit, I can appreciate Shine your love light hope, because it reminds me of the hilarious spectacle of me being the only straight man at a blowoff. My favorite? No, but certainly more enjoyable than anything on Life and Times.
    In part two, I hope I'm misunderstanding you- the defense of Modulate is that it leads to the vocoder work on Body of Song? Umm, I would argue that Modulate was its own thing. I think the idea was to have a rock record, a folk record and a dance record, and the idea got a bit mashed up due to recording limitations. So, that would make both Modulate and Loud Bomb both a sort of odds and sods singles collection than an attempt at a structured cycle of songs, which is much more what Body of Song is. Both methods are valid, in my eyes, but, then, I even find validity in some of Bob's failures- I'm thinking of Doubleface, in particular- I can hear him attempting to blend sound poems, Celtic folk, and Alt rock, and not quite getting there, but the riff, and the MBV vocals save that failure.
    So, here's the best part of all this- the defense of Bob following whatever muse he wants to is that it leads to such a range in his output that we can actually have a disagreement about the various paths- I think that kind of depth is what makes him truly great- it doesn't matter if he chooses to put out the next batch of songs on zither, Xylophone and Tuba- there will be some genuinely great songwriting to underlay even some kind of demented jazz odyssey.