Sunshine Rock

Bob Mould

Merge Records, 2019

http://bobmould.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/18/2019

“There is no second chance, there is no second chance / I reach into the sky and grab the nearest shooting star.” – Bob Mould, “Sunshine Rock”

I don’t know shit about Bob Mould.

Or at least, I didn’t before just now, other than the obvious—singer/songwriter/guitarist for hugely influential early ’80s punk demigods Hüsker Dü and so on. But I’ve never listened to a Hüsker Dü album in my life. I’m fully aware that at least a dozen acts I’m fond of have cited the band as an influence, but I’m just not into punk and you can’t listen to everything (well, unless you’re Kent Glenzer). I just never made it over the hump with the Dü.

Anyway.

Hüsker Dü was known, as much as anything, for championing a more melodic and musically ambitious approach to punk than what had gone before. Their early recordings and performances were pure adrenaline, but as they actually learned to play, their sonic palette began to expand, blossoming for good on 1984’s landmark Zen Arcade double LP. Mould’s post-Dü career has seen him issue 14 solo albums sandwiched around a four-year run as frontman for the early-’90s alt-rock/power-pop trio Sugar.

One thing’s for certain; hitting the second half of his 50s has not mellowed Mould at all. The cathartic punk rage that fueled early Hüsker Dü can still be detected in the headlong attack of the first four tracks of Sunshine Rock. The beauty is, though, that there’s so much more going on now. Mould has, it’s evident, continued to hone his craft year after year without ever losing his connection to the livewire fury that animated him to play music in the first place.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The opening title track, quoted above, is bright, angry, dark, and sweet, an urgent anthem that often feels like it’s about to careen off a cliff, at least until a string section comes sweeping in out of nowhere to like a booster rocket lifting the song into the stratosphere. On first listen the song felt like a confusing jumble; by the fourth every neuron above my neck was firing and the moment it finished, I just wanted to hear it again.

“Sunshine Rock” barrels right into “What Do You Want Me To Do?,” a tight power-pop interrogation that feeds directly into the equally fiery “Sunny Love Song,” a punchy tune about overcoming dead-of-winter depression by writing, well, sunny love songs. “Some days my brain blows up in elegant ways / My muse, short fuse, time bomb, what’s left to lose?” Mould then asks in the furious, cathartic “Thirty Dozen Roses.”

Knowing Mould’s history, it’s impossible to miss the ebb and flow of musical influence floating around in these tunes, the frenetic abandon of the Replacements here, the bold guitar-heavy melodicism of the Gin Blossoms there, both of them heavily influenced by Hüsker Dü. The mixing and matching endures through the rest of the album, from big, heavy tunes like “Irrational Poison” and “Sin King” to airier numbers like the rather elegiac “The Final Years” and the R.E.M.-ish “Lost Faith.” “Poison,” “Years” and “Faith” mirror the title track by incorporating strings to augment the basic melody without blunting the songs’ visceral impact. Just in case Dü fans are afraid Bob’s gone soft, though, he plants 2:36 of pure punk aggression and shredding vocals smack in the middle with the aptly-named “I Fought.”

The tail end of the album is at least as strong as everything that preceded it. The kinder, gentler “Camp Sunshine” offers an affectionate reminiscence of music camp as a kid, writing songs and loving every day; with just strummed electric, a shaker, and his voice, it’s a Bob Mould ballad, to the extent such a thing exists. And a positive-minded one at that: “People get together, people fall apart, people do the best they can / We can’t predict the future, can’t forget the past / Just enjoy the moments we have.”

The only cover here, “Send Me A Postcard” is a ringing, energetic take on a somewhat obscure 1968 single from psychedelic hard rockers Shocking Blue that fits right in here. Finally, closer “Western Sunset” is a big-boned thumper, but one that leans hard on the melody, more power-pop than post-punk in feel, with an orchestra and three-part harmonies providing steadily increasing lift as the song builds to a satisfying crescendo.

At 12 songs and 37 minutes, Sunshine Rock is both tight and loose, an album whose tone neatly reflects its physical appearance: deep black with brilliant sunbursts of color, a collection that’s simultaneously brooding and upbeat, affectionate and ferocious, eloquent and raw. “I always aim for the perfect balance of bright melodies and dark stories,” Mould said in 2016. Mission accomplished.

Rating: B+

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