Song of the Day, December 24: Compositions for the Young and Old by Bob Mould

MouldWBCompsToday’s song is a wistful bit of nostalgia from Bob Mould. Emerging from the wreckage of Hüsker Dü, the singer and guitarist crafted a powerful solo debut, Workbook. Filled with acoustic touches, it startled fans and critics, deriving its power from its subtlety. Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that many of the songs are pensive looks at relationships and personal history. Compositions for the Young and Old uses a songbook as a metaphor for memory, with all its powers and flaws.

Things used to be so simple, long time ago
Now everything is so expensive and complicated
I hear you need a license for just about anything

Mould delivers the vocal with quiet passion, setting up the reminiscences with just enough fragility to put them into question. It’s a remarkable tension between memory and reality, one which he refuses to resolve. Thing were never as perfect as they seemed, but they provide our foundation. Sometimes all you can do — as Mould declares at the abrupt end of the song — is “eat peanut butter sandwiches and cry.”

Enjoy this dark meditation today.

Song of the Day, April 7: If I Can’t Change Your Mind by Sugar

SugarIfICCYMToday’s song is If I Can’t Change Your Mind by Sugar. After Hüsker Dü dissolved, Bob Mould launched a powerful solo career with the meditative brilliance of Workbook followed by the lacerating catharsis of Black Sheets of Rain. All the while he was writing songs that occasionally showed up in his live shows but didn’t quite fit with his solo recordings. He decided to enlist two sympathetic players and form a new band.

Sugar featured Mould’s trademark power and insight, but it wasn’t Hüsker Dü: it wasnt’ meant to be. The songs were energetic rock anchored by the pop traditions that interested Mould as a child. The finest example of that marriage is the power pop anthem If I Can’t Change Your Mind. It’s an elegant track that builds on the best of 60s pop, blending it with the energy of a 90s alt-rock band. A soaring, sometimes searing look at relationships of all sorts, it’s a smart, driving song. Mould has noted that a key to its success is restraint — it was meant to sound like a single, so there’s no extended soloing. The result is a tight, compelling package and a highlight of Mould’s long, eclectic career.

Enjoy this magnificent song today.

Song of the Day, November 4: He Didn’t by the 6ths

Mould6thsA key part of Stephin Merritt’s musical genius is the unexpected juxtaposition. His work with the Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes is filled with wordplay, gender bending, unexpected juxtapositions, and witty asides. For his superstar project the 6ths, however, he takes things one step further. Working with a dizzying array of pop and indie singers, he matches his words to the voices he wants to hear sing them. Sometimes the pairing is straightforward (Barbara Manning is perfect for San Diego Zoo), but something delightful happens with the less obvious.

Case in point, today’s song. Bob Mould is known for his blistering guitar work as a member of Hüsker Dü and the sonic power of his solo work. Merritt gave him a very tender, fragile ballad — and it works. Mould has explored a more delicate side before, but always within the scope of his personal vision. He Didn’t is a gorgeous, brittle song of hope and need, with the narrator wishing that the man of his dreams would just dance with him. Propelled by Mould’s vulnerable vocal and Merritt’s sweet piano line, the track is quiet waves of hope — eventually dashed against the title, which tells the final story.

It’s one of Merritt’s sweeter (if dark) songs; what truly makes it work is Mould’s inherent sincerity. Enjoy this lovely pairing today.

Song of the Day, August 13: Sunspots by Bob Mould

MouldSpotsToday’s song is Sunspots by Bob Mould. Fans and critics eagerly awaited his solo debut after the breakup of Hüsker Dü, but nothing prepared them for the astonishing growth and skill that he demonstrated. For Workbooks opening track, he chose this stunning departure from the potent noise he had demonstrated so far in his career. A fragile, beautiful instrumental, Sunspots is an acoustic gem. Warm and wistful, it sets the tone of quiet majesty that permeates the disc. As a testament, it was flawless. As a lovely musical statement, it remains one of the nicest pieces of music in Mould’s long, complex career. Enjoy this wonderful tune today.

Album of the Week, May 25: Workbook by Bob Mould

MouldDreamingBob Mould was a member of one of the pioneering bands of American punk, Hüsker Dü. As the guitarist and shared vocalist and songwriter of that hardcore legend, he established himself as a master of the melodically loud and the passionately thrashy. Wedding introspective — often angrily so — lyrics to breakneck rhythms and sonic bursts of noisy guitar, Mould and his companions were rightly known as masters of the genre and musicians to be reckoned with. After a decade of critical acclaim, mixed commercial success, internal tensions, and personal drama, the trio disintegrated in 1988. Mould sequestered himself at home, writing and recording an even more intimate set of reflections on life. With Pere Ubu’s rhythm section of Anton Fier and Tony Maimone providing a sold backing, Mould shattered expectations, throwing in a hefty dose of acoustic guitar work and adding cellist Jane Scarpantoni to the potent mix. In the end, he crafted a solo debut that would turn out to be not just his finest hour but a different kind of pioneering effort that helped change the face of alternative rock.

Title Workbook
Act Bob Mould
Label Virgin Release Date April 1989
Producer Bob Mould
U.S. Chart  127 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Sunspots
  2. Wishing Well
  3. Heartbreak A Stranger
  4. See A Little Light
  5. Poison Years
  6. Sinners and Their Repentances
  7. Brasilia Crossed With Trenton
  8. Compositions For the Young and Old
  9. Lonely Afternoon
  10. Dreaming, I Am
  11. Whichever Way the Wind Blows

Nothing could make it more clear that Mould was breaking new ground for himself than Sunspots. The lovely instrumental is fragile and acoustic, showing off Mould’s guitar talents in ways that his Hüsker days only hinted at. It’s a beautiful opener, inviting the listener into Mould’s world. The strident opening chords of Wishing Well make it clear that this is no acoustic folk/jazz disc, but Scarpantoni’s sublime cello work further distances it from the punk thrash of yesteryear. The lyric is classic Mould, a clear-eyed look at the past with a mixture of anger, resignation, and nostalgia. The powerful playing — including one of his finest solos — bolsters the underlying note of hope, setting the stage for the rest of the disc.

Heartbreak A Stranger is one of Mould’s finest songs, from the title to the quiet opening chords straight through to the final notes. It’s a stunning declaration of independence and repudiation of an abusive relationship. Well suited to both his broken band and fractured romantic life, it’s a powerful song of discovery. See A Little Light picks up the hints of hope, building a stronger framework of cautious optimism. Expanding Mould’s sonic palette, it’s fairly straightforward power pop, executed masterfully. Poison Years returns to a darker lens, surging with brooding notes in a strong effort to purge the toxins of the past. Another wrenching introspection, it closes the album’s first movement nicely.

Sinners and Their Repentances brings the acoustic guitar and cello back to the foreground as Mould begins a reflection on nostalgia, personal history, and redemption. It’s a beautiful song, dark but lovely, with Scarpantoni providing a fragile sense of hope under one of Mould’s nicest vocals. Brasilia Crossed With Trenton ranks as one of the most curious titles in rock, but it works. In the popular consciousness, Brazil and New Jersey are fairly disparate; their respective capitals are one of the oldest cities in the Americas and one of the newest. With a rollicking beat from all three supporting performers, Mould conjures up the sense of a train ride, the very ride that his title ponderings refutes. A stark look at the realities of life and the practical needs of modern survival, it’s a wonderful song. Compositions For the Young and Old is more straightforward but no less powerful. Using an old songbook as a metaphor, Mould yearns for simpler days while recognizing that they might not really have been that simple. This trio of songs forms not just the literal center of the album, but its rich, complex heart.

Lonely Afternoon shakes off the personalized abstraction of the last few songs, presenting a simple, demanding narrative of need and determination. Over an almost folky backdrop, Mould crafts a strong rock song of personal reinvention. The title metaphor works remarkably well, and the marriage of Mould’s strong vocal and the sympathetic backing band propel the listener toward the album’s strong finish. Dreaming, I Am is a puzzle of words, a wonderful spiral of images and thoughts that shows Mould’s real growth as a lyricist. It’s a remarkable song and another clear attempt to shake off the past both as a musician and as a person. In many ways, Workbook could have ended here. Instead, Mould provides a coda with Whichever Way the Wind Blows. A reminder that he can rock with the best of them, it blends his more familiar punk sound with a heavy metal overlay. It’s also a dark metaphorical journey, reminding us that the easiest path may be fraught with its own dark dangers. A warning, a hope, and a release, it’s a perfect wrap-up to an amazing journey.

Emerging from his past without dismissing it, Mould presents one of the finest the-band-is-behind-me statements since the breakup of the Beatles. He also paved the way for his alt-rock peers to reinvent themselves, showing the way for acoustic elements to map new, powerfully emotive paths. Bold, powerful, and original Workbook reassured the world that Bob Mould’s journey didn’t end with Hüsker Dü… it had barely begun.

FURTHER LISTENING: I’m not a big fan of American hardcore punk, so I’m not a good source for Mould’s work with his famous band. Both New Day Rising and Warehouse are remarkable statements, however. After his initial solo effort, Mould got noisy again with Black Sheets of Rain, a very mixed bag with a couple of high points. He then went back to the power trio model, forming Sugar. That band released two albums and an EP, also a bit of a mixed bag. Copper Blue has some strong moments, but the noise-to-grandeur ratio is a bit off. Two of Mould’s best songs are Sugar tracks however, the dramatic Hoover Dam and the earnest If I Can’t Change Your Mind. Returning to solo work, he turned out a couple of workmanlike discs before shocking  his fans with a departure into electronica with the passionate but flawed Modulate. Since then he’s turned out a regular flow of solid albums, the best of which are 2005’s impressive electro-punk Body of Song and 2012’s solid Silver Age.

Song of the Day, February 24: I’m Sorry Baby But You Can’t Stand In My Light Anymore by Bob Mould

MouldSorryToday’s song is I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Anymore by Bob Mould. The talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist had experimented with electronica for a few albums before returning to more familiar power pop sounds. This song appears on his great 2009 album Life and Times. Known for both his introspective and direct songs, Mould took the latter approach with this one, spelling things out pretty clearly in the title. A song of a doomed relationship and the singer’s need to move on, it carries powerful emotion — regret, determination, and spent passion. Mould is in fine voice, wringing the most out of the urgent lyrics, and his guitar work is as fine as ever.

I let you get up close to me
I let you feel the warm and the calm
and you resisted, it took me time to notice
but now I see the shadows as they fall
I always find the broken ones
what does this say about me?

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, May 17: See A Little Light by Bob Mould

MouldSeeLightToday’s song is See A Little Light by Bob Mould. It was the lead single from his solo debut, Workbook, and with a #4 peak on the Rock charts remains his most successful chart entry. A quietly powerful acoustic number, it served as fair warning to fans of Hüsker Dü that the singer and guitarist was staking out new territory.

As with much of the album, it is introspective and personal, reflecting on a relationship in which the partners must choose to move forward together or let things come to a close. The title is a testament to Mould’s frame of mind at the time, determined to find a glimmer of hope even in the face of endings. He’s in fine voice and delivers a powerful song even without the trademark roar of his former band.

I see a little light, I know you will
I can see it in your eyes, I know you still care
But if you want me to go
You should just say so

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, October 16: (Shine Your) Light, Love, Hope by Bob Mould

Today’s song is (Shine Your) Light, Love, Hope by Bob Mould. The singer, songwriter, and guitarist has had a varied career. He was part of the seminal hardcore band Hüsker Dü, moved on to a powerful solo career with an added emphasis on acoustic material, took a detour into the alt-rock power trio Sugar, and returned to a strong solo career. In 2002, he surprised fans and critics with an album that reflected his growing interest in dance music and electronica, Modulate. Building on that framework, he perfected the merger of that sound with his guitar strengths on 2005’s Body of Song.

Throughout his career, he has shown a dedication to intense, passionate, honest music. While the use of vocal tools and reduced dependence on guitar rock may have been a surprise, it did nothing to diminish those characteristics. Light Love Hope is a powerful anthem of personal strength shared. Only four lines long, it repeats the lyrics like a mantra, working beautifully as a dance track and a solid Mould testament.

Shine your light, your love, your hope
Hold it in your hand so tight
Beam it from your eyes at night
I can’t find my way

Today is Bob Mould’s 52nd birthday. Wish him many happy returns and enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, August 2: Dreaming, I Am by Bob Mould

Today’s song is Dreaming, I Am by Bob Mould. It’s another powerful track from his first solo album, Workbook. More abstract than many of his songs, it’s a collage of images much like the shadow box featured on the album’s cover. Mould reflects on his life post Hüsker Dü and his reinvention of himself as a solo artist. Using the powerful musicianship that served so well in the hardcore band, he wields his new acoustic tools and crafts an even stronger vessel for his words.

Wire cage with rope and wooden framing doors behold
Prancing for the camera in some monthly centerfold
It’s the loneliest I’ve been so far
Someone left the golden door ajar

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, October 16: Heartbreak A Stranger by Bob Mould

Today’s song is Heartbreak A Stranger by Bob Mould. The pioneering founder of Hüsker Dü, Mould surprised his fans by releasing Workbook as his first solo album. A major departure from the hardcore sound of the band, this magnificent album has great sonic power but uses more acoustic, atmospheric settings. Changing his soundscape while retaining his intensely personal, soul-searching lyrics allowed Mould to find his wings as a solo performer, setting the stage for a post-Hüsker career with great depth and diversity. I find it to be his most personal and powerful album. Heartbreak A Stranger is a magnificent song of reflection, betrayal, and personal strength, all hallmarks of Mould’s best writing. Enjoy this amazing song and wish Bob Mould a happy 51st birthday today.

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