All Tensed Up / Don't Try to Call / I'm Not Interested / Guns at My School / Push the Button / Gilligan's Island / MTC / Don't Have a Life / Bricklayer / Tired of Doing Things / You're Naive / Strange Week / Do the Bee / Big Sky / Ultracore / Let's Go Die / Data Control
A 26-minute blast of fury and anger. A non-stop barrage of uncontrolled emotion. Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record is a live album that trashes mercilessly along for less than half an hour. It contains seventeen (17!) songs that are glued to each other Ramones-style, one song's fading out chord being the first chord of the next.As a full-throttle assault it's nearly incomparable, but as a collection of songs it seems rather flawed. While some songs may have recognisable hooks and clever lyrics, the horrible sound obliterates our chances of ever finding that out. Most of the songs ("I'm Not Interested," "Guns At My School," "Strange Week," "Big Sky") just sound very similar, as you only hear crashing drums and cymbals, rumbling bass and a guitar that's being controlled by an insane maniac.
Being a non-native speaker may be my disadvantage, but of some of the songs I only recognize words that also appear in the title. Still, some songs (well, about two of 'em) are out of step: "Don't Have a Life" sounds loud and fast, but also angular, if you know what I mean, as if they were covering a song by Gang of Four or Wire. "Bricklayer," also present on the band's first studio album Everything Falls Apart, is immediately recognisable because of the intro and its tight aggression. The album's closer, "Data Control," however, slows the tempo down and is by far the most lengthy and interesting song on the album. Moreover, it's the only song of which I can understand all the lyrics. Luckily, it's a great song, dealing with a (future – though it's not far-fetched to presume the boys were talking about modern-day) society in which all data about the citizens are centralized, enabling a 1984-system of total control. Musically, it's also easily the most impressive song, plodding thunderously along, and the best part is the frighteningly intense climax before the last chorus, with all three members screaming "DATA CONTROOOOOL" at the top op their lungs. A primitive but apocalyptic song, bursting with uncontrolled energy. The rest of the songs are either loud and fast hardcore punk, loud and very fast hardcore punk, or loud and ridiculously fast hardcore punk. Despite the ultra-short songs, the messy sound and the often messy playing (although that's hard to know for sure, given the non-existing production value), the fact that this outfit was capable of reaching bigger heights was a sure thing. We just had to wait another few years and deal with some transitional albums before witnessing that.
From the Gut / Blah Blah Blah / Punch Drunk / Bricklayer / Afraid of Being Wrong / Sunshine Superman / Signals From Above / Everything Falls Apart / Wheels / Target / Obnoxious / Gravity / Statues / Amusement / In a Free Land / What Do I Want? / M.I.C.
Not as fast, aggressive or messy as Land Speed Record, but still a far cry from their mid-eighties masterpieces, Everything Falls Apart finds the golden Minneapolis trio refining their hardcore punk and adding psychedelic influences (the band seems to be fond of The Byrds’ sonic experiments, and two years later they would record a superior version of “Eight Miles High”) and pop melodies. Well, not in all the songs, just here and there.“Punch Drunk” and “Bricklayer” (both clock in under 35 seconds) are unbelievably fast and furious punk songs, featuring some maniacally screamed vocals, raving music and short twisted guitar solos. Other instances of their manic intensity are the hostile “Obnoxious” (“You don’t like the way we look, obnoxious, you don’t like the way we talk, obnoxious, you can all go get fucked, obnoxious”), and the awesome “Signals from Above,” which starts with some chaotic guitar feedback and pummeling bass and drums, but soon develops into a galloping monster of a song that obliterates everything on its path.
Elsewhere, the band starts infusing their torrential noise bursts with small amounts of poppy elements. “From the Gut,” “Blah Blah Blah,” “Afraid of Being Wrong,” “Wheels,” and “Target” are definitely loud and aggressive shards of noise, but somehow they already betray elements that would become more prominent (unless you limit yourself to listening James Taylor albums, then even these songs might get you a heart attack). All these songs add elements that don’t fit in “classic” hardcore, whether it’s a psychedelic guitar sound (“Wheels”), a twisted guitar solo (“From the Gut,” in which it seems as if Mould tries to combine Greg Ginn-styled chaos and late 60’s melodicism), or backing vocals (“Blah Blah Blah” and “Target,” with Bob Mould spitting out “You’ve seen it all before, you think it’s passing, but you listen to the same fucking records every single day”).The band also hesitantly leaves the hardcore ingredients behind on the title track (which they never rigidly followed in the first place, as they were more concerned with conviction and energy than with a narrow-minded set of rules), a (*gasp*) poppy punk song that might have been on Flip Your Wig, and the equally catchy “Gravity,” that also boasts a conventional guitar solo. Grant Hart probably was the most pop-oriented songwriter in the band. He not only sang (and in this band the one who wrote the song usually sings it) the psychedelica-tinged “Wheels,” but also a fine cover version of “Sunshine Superman,” a song by British bard Donovan.The short album (12 songs, 19 minutes) also adds the band’s first two singles: “Statues”/”Amusement” (1980) and “In a Free Land”/ “M.I.C” (1982) (the back cover also mentions a track called “What Do I Want?”, but it does not appear on the CD) that are interesting. “Amusement,” a live track that is a bit too long isn’t anything special, but the Hart-sung “Statues” is, combining wavery guitar feedback, a catchy and repetitive bass line, and some chicken scratch-guitar during the chorus (funk? what the hell?). The second single, “In a Free Land” shows that the band was also clearly inspired by the Ramones, while “M.I.C.” is a politically aware hardcore rant.A transitional album that has the band hesitating between all-out hardcore and more melodic material, Everything Fall Apart might be too noisy for those who want their first taste of Hüsker Dü, but it might it might be your thing after you have purchased (and like) their acclaimed mid-period albums Zen Arcade, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig, which, although still indebted to their early loud stuff (and certainly the first album contains some very harsh songs), reach unbelievable heights by adding more elements from pop and folk.Note: There is a version of this album around (see also cover photo) called Everything Falls Apart and More, which has these songs, but adds a longer version of “Statues,” and old stuff “Let’s Go Die” and “Do You Remember?”. That edition also has the songs separated, and not programmed as one 32 minutes-long track, like my (Wild Angel) edition is.
I haven't heard Land Speed Record, though I can certainly guess what it must've sounded like from the faster songs present on here. Truthfully, this is the Huskers' weakest studio release and during the time they recorded these songs, they were not yet the great band they would later be. Everything Falls Apart (and the included singles) capture the band in it's formative stages and considering they were a hardcore thrash band for the entire first half of their existence (during which their output was pretty scant, especially compared to their 84-86 musical renaissance), it was a pretty long formative stage.
However, these songs do have their good qualities. They capture the speed, fun, and emotion of the early 80s Minneapolis punk scene where both the Huskers and the Replacements ruled the day and continually both met the scorn of their SoCal cousins and then put them to shame with the blazing songs they kept putting out. The material on Everything Falls Apart blows away most "hardcore" punk music (and a good deal of regular punk music as well) any day of the week, in spite of it's inferiority to the college rock the band would put out later. Also, it's charmingly short. Twelve songs speed by in about twenty minutes. Yet another trademark of the early 80s punk/alternative scene where bands like Husker Du, the Minutemen, the Descendents, and the Replacements were able to do in two minutes or less what the Sex Pistols and the Dead Boys would drag out to four. Punk rock may have been dead as a doornail by this time (all the bands from the 77 scene had passed on, save for the Clash...who were doing their Combat Rock stuff at this time...ugh...), but other bands (and dare I say, better bands) were taking what they heard and doing it their own way.
The biggest problem with the Huskers material at this time, though, was that they hadn't really found their way yet. They played with the kind of power, speed, and relative tightness that left other punk bands in the dirt, but lyrically they simply regurgitated what other bands around the same time were saying ("Blah Blah Blah" and "Afraid To Be Wrong" were essentially rewrites of Minor Threat). Neither Mould nor Hart had really developed their song-writing voice yet, though they did show much potential on certain cuts here.
And getting on to the actual album, "From the Gut" opens the album perfectly with the militaristic beat of Hart's drums and the guitar pummeling that follows, along with Bob's (??) shouted vocals. "Blah Blah Blah" kicks the speed up a notch, but while it's fun to thrash around to, the annoying people (the band members probably) rambling on at the end of the song actually gets the point across better than any of the lyrics. "Punch Drunk" and "Bricklayer" are great 45 second slices of light-speed anarchy, showcasing a crushing power and wonderfully violent lyrics. After one of the weaker songs (in my stupid opinion anyway) "Afraid To Be Wrong", comes a rather shocking (but welcome) left turn in Grant Hart's cover of "Sunshine Superman". It has the raw garage band sound of the rest of the album, but it's as catchy as all hell and betrays that the band had talent beyond playing powerchords really fast.
Bob Mould follows that with another high point of the album, "Signals From Above", which starts with Velvet Underground-esque feedback and distortion and then pulls together into a full punk charge. What sets this apart from the others is Bob's lyrics (which are pretty good) that rag on the failed hippie culture ("you think the whole world is incense, peace, and love/but you cannot escape the signals from above"). Nirvana would do a damned similar thing on their Nevermind album roughly ten years later. And that particular song was a Husker Du tribute no less...
The title track follows (and it's also pretty good and, like you said, was good enough to be on Flip Your Wig), then comes Grant Hart's sole song-writing contribution "Wheels", possibly their equivalent of the Replacements' "Takin' A Ride". The drumming and guitar work on this song is way beyond regular hardcore...and the bass is almost funky here. Yet another highlight of the album. "Target" is a decent punk song (with Bob continuing to find his song-writing voice). "Obnoxious", however, is my least favorite, sounding as if it were ripped directly off Black Flag's Nervous Breakdown EP. Try imagining Keith Morris here instead of Mould and I think you'll see what I mean. "Gravity" makes up for it by ending the almost in fine and even emotional form. The band get a great groove going here and this actually may be a strong contender for their best album closer.
Overall, it's not as strong as other records that other bands were writing along the same time, but it's still a fine slice of good indie music that pointed to better things. Plus it's too short to become boring (unlike a certain album called Bleach). I give it either a 7 of a 7.5. I'm not really sure.
The extras are pretty cool with "In A Free Land" being the highlight and "Statues" sort of sucking the fun out of the album by going on for way too long.
Real World / Deadly Skies / It’s Not Funny Anymore / First of the Last Calls / Lifeline / Diane / Out on a Limb
A 7-song ep that for the most part expands on the melodic hardcore punk of Everything Falls Apart, Metal Circus nevertheless has some interesting songs. Five of the songs (“Real World,” “Deadly Skies,” “First of the Last Calls,” “Lifeline,” “Out on a Limb”) basically still are raging hardcore songs, but some have already have New Day Rising-guitars (“Real World,” “Deadly Skies”), others just speed ahead, but in a more accessible way now. Despite the increase of melodic ingredients, Bob Mould still ‘sings’ as if his life depends on it. Thematically these songs offer nothing new, touching upon topics such as nuclear danger (“Deadly Skies”), indifference (“Real World,” “It’s Not Funny Anymore”), addiction (“First of the Last Calls”), and life’s inadequacy (“Lifeline”). The songs sung by Grant Hart are easily the best ones on this release. “It’s Not Funny Anymore” is essentially pop played as punk and features a great melody and some catchy guitar playing (reminding me of the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”). The epicentre of the album, however, is Hart’s first great song, “Diane.”
Introduced by drums (which immediately follow the preceding “Lifeline”), the addition of bass and then guitar injects the song with an uncomfortable tension from the beginning. Hart “sings” the first verse in a relaxed conversational tone, but the last line reveals that he’s planning to rape and kill the mentioned Diane. The song has a classic structure of verse-chorus (x3, with a heavily distorted guitar solo after the second chorus), but somehow the band succeeds in building up towards an uncommonly intense climax, with Hart in the last chorus yelling “Diane” over and over again, the background vocals repeating the name’s first syllable “die die die” (resulting in the idea that Hart may as well be singing “Die Ann”). A morbid and chilling tale, “Diane” is the band’s first transcending song (years later, Irish band Therapy? would record an impressive cover version of the song, and being fans, they asked Hart as support act for one of their tours, which resulted in lots of Therapy?-fans asking the band who the old fart before them was). Essential listening for any Hüsker Dü-fan, but also the first of their released that might appeal to a broader audience, mainly on the strength of “Diane,” Metal Circus only has one bad song (“Out on a Limb,” and doesn’t that riff sound like “Beat It”?), a handful of good ones and one stand-out track, but ultimately will go down in music history books as “the release that preceded Zen Arcade.”
The opener, "Real World", is an absolute classic. I love the distorted intro with the somewhat odd melody that launches into a bass-driven, straight out rock number, surrounded in the clouds of distortion made by Bob's guitar. Mould unleashes an extremely pissed off vocal performance here, worthy of Johnny Rotten himself, taking on the ignorant and fascism of the hardcore punk scene circa 1983. "People talk about anarchy and taking up a fight/I don't think about things like that/I lock my doors at night". With lines like those, Mould both injects some human emotion and honesty into his song-writing (which was needed, considering how nondescript some of the lyricism of their prior work was), as well making a very definite point. Along with Minor Threat's "Salad Days", "Real World" chronicles the degeneration of punk rock into sameness, posing, and uniform. It's also one of the best Husker Du songs ever, in my opinion.
Ironically enough, the next song is the speedy "Deadly Skies" which covers a typical punk subject (nuclear warfare) and features a Greg Ginn-esque guitar lick in the chorus. However, the subject of nuclear warfare wasn't just limited to punk rock bands and Mould injects his lyrics with enough wit to make the song interesting. "I'd like to protest but I'm not sure what it's for/I guess I have no control over the threat of nuclear war/I made a sign today to show that I really cared" also stuck out to me because it again speaks a truth, albeit a sad one. Read a little deeper into it and it may be yet another jab at the current hardcore scene, who were chalk full of bands who sung about things they didn't really know anything about.
Grant Hart's first contribution is next, which is "It's Not Funny Anymore". Yet another damn good Husker Du song, this is more of a pop punk style number (with great guitar work, especially in the breaks) with Hart taking on the punk scene this time. His lyrics and performance aren't as rapidly emotional as Bob Mould's, but perhaps more insightful and more indicative of where the band was going at the time. It seems to me as if Hart was saying that the hardcore punk thing was getting old and the best thing to do was to move on. And by their next release, the band had certainly moved on, as well as blown so many of those bands out of the water...
Mould comes back with the anti-drinking "First of the Last Calls" (which is okay, but not as cool as the first three songs) and the speedy, frantic "Lifeline". The speed of "Lifeline" is only matched by it's apparent sarcasm, as Mould sneers "I feel so insecure/I feel so all alone" with more contempt for his own words than anguish. Bob was definitely pissed about something when he recorded this album. His rage would later fuel some of the finest tracks on Zen Arcade (as well as the few odd angry numbers on all the other later albums).
"Diane" comes next and that song needs no introductions to all who have heard it. It's a monstrous, eerie song made only better by Hart's wicked vocals (and I mean that in every sense of the word). People talk about "The Midnight Rambler" and "Polly" being freaky, horrific songs and they are. But try listening to "Diane" by yourself in the dark. The brooding, grungey bassline. The funeral-esque drumming. Mould's guitar work, mournful in the verses, and shrieking violently in the bridge and...again, Hart's performance. The Huskers never really attempted anything like it again, though I suppose certain songs on Zen Arcade and Mission of Burma's Versus have similarities. In any event, one of the best songs of the 80s. It's the song that all the grunge bands of the early 90s wished they had done.
The EP closes fine enough with "Out On A Limb" (which, yes, does sound funnily enough like a heavily distorted "Beat It"). It isn't great, but it set the trend of the Huskers closing their albums with instrumentals (or near instrumentals). They would continue this trend until they left SST. Whether it was a good trend is up to you.
Like Everything Falls Apart, Metal Circus is yet another fine little record of the early 80s in the days of early alternative rock. It's pretty good. I'd give it about an 8. But it's only a prelude to the greatest that would follow in their holy trinity of SST albums.
Something I Learned Today / Broken Home, Broken Heart / Never Talking to You Again / Chartered Trips / Dreams Reoccurring / Indecision Time / Hare Krsna / Beyond the Threshold / Pride / I’ll Never Forget You / The Biggest Lie / What’s Going On / Masochism World / Standing by the Sea / Somewhere / One Step at a Time / Pink Turns to Blue / Newest Industry / Monday Will Never Be the Same / Whatever / The Tooth Fairy and the Princess / Turn On the News / Reoccurring Dreams
1984. David Bowie releases Tonight, the Rolling Stones released Undercover the previous year, Steely Dan and Roxy Music had disbanded in the meantime. Suffice it to say that most of the rock icons/innovators of the 70’s were going through hard times. Even the bands that were supposed to save rock music from pomposity and superficiality at the end of that decade, like The Clash, The Police, Talking Heads, were becoming clones of their former selves, and on the verge of splitting up (the first two), or just not exciting anymore (the last one). New, stylised, innovatively clad pop icons (Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna) were storming both the singles and the album charts and – so it seemed – driving rock music into a corner (an exception that comes to mind is Springsteen, although his Born In the U.S.A. was decidedly more pop-oriented than his previous work). It was a transitional era that saw the rise of new future giants (U2, R.E.M.) and loads of recycled waste. One of the smaller stories in music history is that of SST Records, a label started by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn. The quality music this company released between 1980 and the end of the 80’s was simply stunning, ranging from the seminal hardcore album Damaged (1981), to the Minutemen’s jazz-punk masterpiece Double Nickels On the Dime (1984), to Dinosaur Jr.’s influential feedback work-outs You’re Living All Over Me (1987) and Bug (1988). The most resonant of those bands, however, and the band that might very well be the single most significant ‘alternative’ outfit of the 80’s (ok, the jangly college pop of R.E.M. was probably more obviously influential) when it comes to guitar-oriented rock, was Hüsker Dü.
Like so many bands of the era (The Wipers, Mission of Burma, The Dream Syndicate, etc.), the band preferred toying around with a maximum of decibels in the beginning, releasing two albums of incensed punk and an EP that tended to go in a slightly different direction. The result of their ongoing musical experimentation and refinement (although some might argue they never refined anything) is this 70-minute long double album, released in the same year as SST’s other seminal double album by The Minutemen. Both albums are a culmination of what the respective bands had reached thus far, with a lot of new ingredients added, but were ultimately more than the sum of their respective parts. Certainly Zen Arcade, with which the Minneapolis trio proved they were no longer a hardcore punk band (despite the fact that the album is very loud), went further than anyone could have imagined. The early influences like 60’s psychedelica, folk and classic rock are given more prominence, resulting in an exhausting and schizophrenic, but even more so, an impressively sprawling and challenging album. And it looks like it’s a concept album, too! Well, I honestly didn’t find a storyline that links all the songs together (although I found (or created?) a thematic unity that I’ll mention later), but the majority of the songs seem concerned with the trials and tribulations of an unnamed protagonist growing up, discovering the world, experiencing (broken) relationships, and more. A bit like The Who’s lauded double album Quadrophenia (1973) - but with balls.The hardcore ferocity of the previous releases isn’t gone, but the amount of songs that are fast and loud on this album is rather limited (about one third of the songs). The sound of the guitars, on the other hand, has no limits at all: I have heard many people complain about the sound of this album (or the sound of all Hüsker Dü-albums), but in my opinion this is one of the most powerfully produced albums ever (a job handled by the band itself, aided by legendary producer Spot (producer/engineer on albums by Black Flag, the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, etc.)) when it comes to guitar sounds. They don’t rock, jangle or cajole. The guitar scorches, raves, thrashes and knocks you off your feet.
The album opens with “Something I Learned Today”, which is introduced by precise but weird drums, rumbling bass and then that typical, grating guitar sound (if you can’t imagine what it sounds like, take your copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind and listen to the beginning of “Territorial Pissings”, which resembles this sound). Immediately following the opener comes “Broken Home, Broken Heart,” one of several songs dealing with a dysfunctional family. This song also has a great guitar solo at the end, and another noteworthy thing is the fact that Grant Hart doesn’t seem to pound those drums really hard: no matter how loud the song is, the drums remain subdued, going calmly along without losing control. “Indecision Time” has a guitar sound you almost could compare to a swarm of delirious bees. Mould really spits out lines like “Questions like a candle that’s burning at both ends, never find an answer that fits in your plans.” Then listen to the scorching assault of “Beyond the Threshold,” and try to convince me this isn’t where Pearl Jam found their riff for “Spin the Black Circle.” The lyrical matter (the horror of an urban wasteland) and muffled vocals (apart from the “Beyooooond the threshold”-screams) are a nice contrast to “Pride”, perhaps the single most intense song on the album. The energy and conviction Mould injects in his performance is dazzling, and the fact that the band keeps its focus in a song so filled with emotion, anger, and disillusion is plain astonishing. That the band is capable of maintaining that energy-level during the next two songs, combined with the knowledge that these songs are all first takes, is further proof of the fact that the band almost didn’t have any limits at the time. “I’ll Never Forget You” is a gut-wrenching farewell letter to a former friend/lover (“Told you everything I knew about me, didn’t listen to a word I say, spill my guts, you just threw them away”), and “The Biggest Lie” – with its steadily accelerating intro (remember Black Flag's "Six Pack," anyone?) – is another raving lesson in disillusionment (“You trade your respect for no success, you tried to be a hero, but you end up nothing”). Finally, the album’s most traditional ‘punk rock’ song (or is it hard rock?) is probably the anthemic “Turn On the News.” It’s introduced by thirty seconds of TV-noises in the background, and then a crunching guitar suddenly falls in and Hart starts singing his tale of a society gone astray (“I hear it everyday on the radio, somebody shoots a guy he don’t even know, airplanes are falling out of the sky, a baby is born and another one dies”), and it’s of course a story of all times. Rarely has a disappointment in modern day society resulted in such a riveting song, however, as the song rocks and Hart’s passionate singing never lets up. The middle part, with the monkey noises and the galloping guitar, is as thrilling as it gets and prepares for the tensed climax (listen to the Rob Halford-imitation there!).
While all the fast and loud songs were written by Bob Mould, he and Hart both contribute some more accessible songs. “Chartered Trips,” despite the overall distortion (it’s hard to tell who actually sings the song), can certainly be qualified as power pop with a harsh punk edge. Tracks like “Newest Industry” (a song set in the future that’s a chilling reflection of contemporary reality), “Somewhere” and “Whatever” (dealing with isolation, misunderstanding, generation clashes), are melodic rock songs that roll ahead at maximum distortion. Hart’s songs are even more poignant: “What’s Going On” (recycled in the Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979”?) and “Standing By the Sea” are two haunting tracks that delve into harrowing subjects such as solitude and insecurity, the latter injected with a big dose of melancholy. Another remarkable tune is the Mould co-written “Masochism World,” with a unison attack (fittingly) imitating the cracks of a whip, and once again it stresses the concern with pain (both active and passive), a primary theme of the album. The music is powerful, the coolest thing being the acceleration after a false ending. Two of the album’s heavyweights, however, are “Never Talking to You Again” and “Pink Turns to Blue,” perhaps the icing on the Zen cake. “Never,” like Mould’s “I’ll Never Forget You,” is a farewell message, but whereas Mould used every grain of emotion and loads of decibels to express his indignation, Hart opts for a sparse acoustic guitar to support his cool declaration: “There are things that I’d like to say, but I’m never talking to you again, there’s things I’d like to phrase some way, but I’m never talking to you again.” With a minimum of resources and an ultra-short song (1:39), Hart succeeds in conveying more emotion than many artists can muster on an entire album. The last great Hart track on the album is “Pink Turns to Blue,” one of the most terribly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard about drug abuse. Instead of simply telling that a girlfriend died of a drug overdose, Hart chooses imagery such as the title and the final verse “No more rope and too much dope, she’s lying on the bed, angels pacing, gently placing roses ‘round her head.” Even the music, with touches of piano and backing vocals, almost sounds morbid, and Mould’s solo is as intensely sad as Hart’s story.
Besides a bunch of raving hardcore songs and mid-tempo rockers, the album also contains some experiments and filler songs that can be seen as short interludes linking up different sections. “Monday Will Never Be the Same” and “One Step At a Time” are two short (less than a minute) piano solos, “Hare Krsna” features those typically repetitive Krsna ‘lyrics’, and is mainly memorable because of the overwhelming ringing percussion, courtesy of Hart. “The Tooth Fairy and the Princess” is a dream-like instrumental (ok, there are some vocals, but they’re limited to muted “Don’t give up, don’t let go, don’t give in, don’t let on,” while echoing guitar sounds come and go). Something awkward, and probably two of the most hated Hüsker Dü-tracks, are the short-ish “Dreams Reoccurring” and the lengthy album closer “Reoccurring Dreams.” In the first one, the band experiments with backwards effects, loads of distortion and feedback, and sudden accelerations and decelerations, while the second one builds on that, turning it into a monstrous feedback-fest that’s hard to take.The album covers several themes, the most prominent of them being the experience of growing up and exploring the world, often combined with dysfunctional relationships (“Something I Learned Today,” “Pride,” “Whatever,” “Somewhere,” etc), break-ups (“Never Talking to You Again,” “I’ll Never Forget You,”), haunting pictures of a devastated world (“Beyond the Threshold,” “Newest Industry,” “Turn On the News”) and confusion in general (“Indecision Time,” “What’s Going On,” “Standing By the Sea”, etc). There’s an ongoing quest for security going on, a need for hope that isn’t fulfilled. The protagonist in “Something I Learned Today” lets us know that he learned something, but adds “Someone else’s rules, not mine.” Similarly, the idealistic character in “The Biggest Lie” tries to be a hero, but “ends up nothing.” A nice image of this is a line from “Standing By the Sea”: “The waves kept on repeating, each one crashing to the shore, and my footprints nowhere leading, as they disappeared once more.” The actions/intentions/hopes are useless from the beginning, but moreover, they are erased immediately afterwards by the weight that is brought upon us by life and relations. The sense of disappointment that permeates this album is almost unbearable.
No matter how emotionally scarred the album’s characters are, the music on Zen Arcade remains convincingly confident. It is true that the music sometimes lacks a certain cohesion often found in albums lauded because of their focused brevity, but that was never the point of this album. Likewise, one could argue that the album is too long or that is contains filler (“Dreams Reoccurring,” “Reoccurring Dreams”), but I would never want to hear a shortened version of it. Like The Beatles’ White album, it shows the band at a transitional and experimental stage, and offers more than a glimpse of what the band was capable of at the time. That it also involves music that isn’t played by the rules and defies aesthetical rules is part of the package. In this case it’s the big picture that counts, and in my opinion it’s exciting, ambitious, intense, rewarding and, in the end - despite the disillusionment and disappointments that infuse many of the songs – life-affirming, and that’s the biggest compliment an album can get, right?
Also, the song-writing here is top notch. Bob Mould and Grant Hart had both found their song-writing voices on the previous EP and here they make great use of them. However, the anger and contempt for the hardcore scenesters present on much of Metal Circus has no grown into both greater anger and contempt for society as a whole, as well as empathy for many of the kids that they must have encountered upon their constant touring and crashing on random floors because they had nowhere else to (so could anyone really blame them for going to a major label after that if that's what they had to deal with so much of the time?). Mould once said something to the effect of that the hardcore kids would actually like this album if they had an open mind because it was really just about them. The songs all speak of a young man coming of age, leaving a turmoil suburbia because of the pain and hypocrisy he finds there ("Something I Learned Today, Broken Home Broken Heart, Never Talking To You Again"), only to find the outside world being even painful ("Pink Turns To Blue, I Will Never Forget You") and hypocritical ("The Biggest Lie, Masochism World) than the hellhole he left. In the end, he ends just back where he was, working a job that leads nowhere good ("Newest Industry"), forced to deal with the issues between him and his parents ("Whatever"), and finally facing the world ("Turn On The News"). Of course, this is just if you want to look at the album as a concept record, something I've always been two minds about. The songs work perfectly well on their own (unlike many concept albums) and the picture that they paint collectively is more meaningful than any story they could tell.
Bob Mould's songs are the more consistently angry of his and Hart's, but he also shows much vulnerability, as opposed to much of his angry, defiant screaming during the hardcore days. He still gets to scream defiantly though. The balance between anger and anguish may be best shown on the opener "Something I Learned Today" where he defies "yielding to the right of way" and "Something else's rules/not mine", but screams in anguish every so often to show his wounded humanity. The song itself is hard and fast, but not hardcore punk. Straight ahead alt.rock with some great vocal harmonies and wonderful little melodic outro. "Broken Home, Broken Heart" deals with the subject of divorce, one many have had to deal with, but not many songs have been written about to my knowledge. Cut from the same fine cloth as the opener, but with a great solo by Mould to top it off. The first left comes in the form of the Grant Hart's "Never Talking To You Again", which is just Grant singing while Bob plays acoustic guitar and provides backing vocals. Lyrically, the song's narrator calmly but firmly tells a person who was once important in their lives to piss off. The quietly intense nature of this song contrasts later on with Bob Mould's "I'll Never Forget You", which deals with similar subject matter.
Bob Mould's "Chartered Trips" brings the distortion back on again, though it's more of a pop song at heart than anything. Lyrically, it's perhaps the only real upbeat moment on the album, dealing with someone leaving their hometown (and their troubles) behind and "the sky's the limit/on this chartered trip away". "Dreams Reoccurring" is the first of many short interludes between songs, this one being a noisy little psychedelic number with backwards guitars, weird drumming, and loads of feedback. It segues into the noisy, aggressive "Indecision Time", which is the album's first deviation from overtly melodic material. Bob's delivery here is great and the amount of guitar noise he wreaks out while the rest of the band keeps the song tight is pretty awe inspiring. This one stands up to any of the songs off of Black Flag's Damaged and to all who have heard that record, that's saying a lot. The band takes another left turn with the weird, industrial, dancey number "Hare Krsna", seemingly derived from older, slower, droning numbers like "Statues" and "Amusement".
After a fairly varied first side of the LP, the second side is mostly straight ahead hardcore with a few deviations. "Beyond the Threshold", "Pride", and "I'll Never Forget You" are the most extreme songs on the album, perhaps the core of the album itself. They're either beloved or despised depending on whether the listener has a penchant for screaming, rabid hardcore. I like them all. "Threshold" has cool vocal effects, "Pride" has Bob screaming like a rabid animal against the injustice caused by other human beings, and "I'll Never Forget You" is one of the most emotional powerfully (and honest) reactions to a betrayal I've ever heard, making it as much as a stand out to me as the more melodic material. "The Biggest Lie" isn't quite as visceral as the previous three songs. It has actual vocal harmonies of all things. Essentially it's a punk song where Bob puts down people who have disillusions of greatness. "What's Going On?" slows things down, everyone gets to sing on it, and introduces a Stooges vibe to the album by implementing a piano to add more style to an otherwise dense and noisy song. Grant Hart takes over with "Masochism World", a fast thrash number that's every bit as visceral as Bob's songs. The lyrics are great, concerning a person's love/hate relationship with the rest of the world (with a strong analogy to kinky sex) and the eternal statement of confusion "Can't you tell me?/Cause I don't know". The song dramatically goes down in flames and makes way for the calmer, bass-driven "Standing By The Sea". The only time guitar is used in the song is to punctuate the emotion in Hart's singing and the song comes off as a prettier, less monstrous cousin to "Diane" from the previous record. The sound effect of waves crashing during the song is very Beatle-esque (not to mention beautiful).
"Somewhere" has a great guitar riff and a spacey sort of powerfully chorus full of great harmonies and a killer lead vocal performance by Hart. This is a song for anyone who's ever wished they lived in a better world. After a short piano interludes comes easily a contender for the best Husker Du song ever, "Pink Turns To Blue". A would-be low key melodic number with volume jacked up, the pace quickened, and lyrics mourning the suicide of a girl who "celebrated every day the way she thought it should be". If that weren't enough to back the song great, there's also the almost angelic vocals in the chorus and Bob Mould's absolutely beautiful guitar solo. Bob Mould's "Newest Industry" is also great. The song has an extremely poppy intro, only to get heavier in the verses where Bob tells the tale of a nightmarish future (which isn't too far off from reality now). One of the most powerful moments on Zen Arcade is when Bob finishes the verses on "Newest Industry" and the band speeds it up for a monstrous, wordless chorus that never fails to give me chills. After yet another piano interlude comes "Whatever", yet another one of the greatest Husker Du songs ever written. A more vulnerable counterpoint to the raging "Broken Home, Broken Heart" perhaps, Mould tells the story of a depressed isolated son and his parents, who cannot figure out what's wrong with him. It would be easy for someone to write the song purely from the child's point of view and basically make it come off as whiny, but Mould takes the depressed child to task as well with lyrics like "He'd rather be all by himself/because his plans, they seem the best" said with contempt, as if he were mocking the boy's self-centeredness somewhat. The song is heavy, but extremely melodic and the "Mom and Dad/I'm sorry" part is one of the saddest and most chilling things I've heard in a song. The chorus "Whatever you want/Whatever you do/Wherever you go/Whatever you say" is delivered with the right enough balance of sneering and submission to be the icing on the cake. "Whatever" is a moment of pure despair and a triumph lyrically, in my view. Yet another contender for best song on the album.
After the Sonic Youth-ish "don't give up on yourself" mantra of "The Tooth Fairy and the Princess", which is a great trippy sort of song in itself, comes yet another classic, the anthemic "Turn On the News". Rising up from ominous songs coming from the television and radio (ala The Cure's "Pornography"), the band lets loose a great straightforward rock song with passionate vocals and lyrics by Hart ("If there's a thing that I can't explained/It's why the world has to have so much pain") with a call and response chorus that will have your feet tapping, your head banging, and your fist pumping. The 14 minute "Reoccurring Dreams" that ends the album is basically a mostly improvised (???) noise jam ala White Light/White Heat (but better than some songs off that album because it doesn't have any annoying poetry reading over it). It's pretty good, if not a bit overlong. It does end the album in quite the impressive fashion when you consider that this power trio did a fourteen minute instrumental and managed to make it not suck.
Zen Arcade was where the band really proved themselves. Whether it's the best Husker Du album, I do not know. New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig are both classics as well and their major label work is also of much merit. The biggest criticism I've heard of Zen Arcade is that it needed an editor. Maybe so, but like you, I would never want to hear a shortened version of the album (and that's not something I say of most seventy minute albums). I've also seen some who didn't like it because of all the hardcore on it. In my view, though, it's a testament to how great the band was to be able to go to such extremes and then come back with more melodic, emotional songs like "Pink Turns To Blue" and "Whatever". Regardless of whether this is Husker Du's masterwork or not, this is their breakthrough album and one of the best ever recorded. A definite 10.
New Day Rising / Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill / I Apologize / If I Told You / Celebrated Summer / Perfect Example / Terms of Psychic Warfare / 59 Times the Pain / Powerline / Books About UFO’s / I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About / How to Skin a Cat / Whatcha Drinkin’ / Plans I Make
Probably the most lauded of all Hüsker Dü-albums, New Day Rising delivers an amazing bunch of songs that draw from more easily accessible influences/genres (sixties-pop, folk). It is also a lot more digestible than the exhausting and sometimes depressing Zen Arcade. Not only lyrically are the songs a bit lighter (still not all that joyful, though), but also the sound differs a lot from the raging double album it followed. The guitar sounds like a dozen vacuum cleaners, while the drums sound thinner than thin, and only the bass seems quite ‘unharmed’ by the production. If a contemporary album would be given this production, it would probably be trashed, but somehow it works on this album, giving the music the sharp edge it became notorious for, because no matter how instantly memorable many of the melodies are, the frenetic energy this album exudes remains dominant. The title track immediately sets the tone by offering a frantic drum intro (just like on Everything Falls Apart and Zen Arcade, also ‘opened’ by Grant Hart) and layers of droning guitar distortion, creating a hypnotic effect. The song has no actual lyrics, as both Mould and Hart scream “New day rising” over and over again. Nevertheless, it remains one of the album’s most intense highlights.
Equally thrilling, but ultimately a much better song, is Hart’s awesome “Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill,” which benefits from Norton’s high bass notes, Mould’s impassionate playing, and Hart’s possessed vocals (screaming out “Up on Heaven Hill is where I wanna be, that girl that bottle that mattress and me”). Chaotic sounding vocals and tempo shifts characterize the ultra-short “Folk Lore,” a rather pessimistic song contemplating lost values and the lessons learned from history (“Some things never change, some things stay the same, some things rearranged, one thing I know for sure, your heroes always die"). The remainder of the first album half of the album could easily qualify as punk-folk: “I apologize” is an example of the punky folk that would later turn Evan Dando into a minor star for a while, Mould’s “Celebrated Summer” is one of the album’s catchiest songs, with a brilliant chorus, in which wistful lines such as “Getting drunk out on the beach, or playing in a band, and getting out of school meant getting out of hand” are immediately parenthesized by the ironical “Was this your celebrated summer?” “Perfect Example,” the quietest song, gently meanders along with a muted guitar, Mould’s mumbled vocals, and ends the first half of the album on a more soothing note, sounding like a lost lullaby.
Unfortunately, the second half of the album isn’t as consistent. There are some very good poppy songs, like Hart’s bouncy “Terms of Psychic Warfare,” which benefits from another clean bass melody, a melodic guitar solo, and falsetto backing vocals; and also Hart’s “Books About UFO’s,” the most traditional song on the album, a swinging (!) piece of rock ‘n roll with piano and lots of echo on the vocals. “59 Times the Pain” is a harsh but appealing song with sudden tempo shifts and accelerations, tormented singing by Mould, and gloomy lyrics (“Don’t want to live with myself, can’t live with what goes on, all I see is humiliation, I wish it was gone”), while “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” sounds like a louder and shorter version of “Perfect Example.” The remainder of the songs are what makes this album a frustrating listen. Instead of scattering the experiments all over the album (like on Zen Arcade, where they seemed to function as short interludes), this time the band decided to put the lesser tracks all at the end of the album. During “How to Skin a Cat,” Mould and Hart freak out while a conversational voice mumbles along steadily, the raging “Whatcha Drinkin’” could have been a song from Everything Falls Apart, and “Plans I Make” starts off with an impressive hardcore fury (and those guitars sound great), but never really evolves into a truly substantial song. It’s not that these tracks are really bad, but they certainly don’t live up to the built-up momentum of the songs that came before.New Day Rising is further proof of Hüsker Dü’s relentless experimentation and need for renewal. The majority of the album consists of terrific music that combines the structure and melodies of pop and folk songs with the ferocity and intensity of their earlier hardcore albums. Rarely had a band done anything like this before (any examples?), and while the band would go on refining their sound and make even more accessible albums, New Day Rising might very well be the most loved and consistent of their albums. It is a masterpiece of alternative guitar-oriented rock - if you discount the album’s last seven minutes.
The title track serves as more of a mantra than an actual song with actual lyrics. The repetition of the title suggests that this is the sunny morning after the "Reoccurring Dreams" that plagued the protagonist of Zen Arcade, sort of positioning New Day Rising as that album's companion piece. If you want to get really deep with it, you could say it's sort of a redemptionist statement. Of course, it is just three words. What matters is that the song opens the album perfectly, a straightforward sonic assault with the right mix of harmony and screaming. Grant Hart's "Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill" seems like the more alive, practically buzzing cousin to the previous album's "Pink Turns To Blue". Mould and Norton play great, distorted pop riffs with the skill of the 60s pop artists they emulated along with the chord bashing of the 70s punks they also emulated. Hart sings lyrics of a lonely, but internally beautiful girl who lives up on a hill by herself, an objection of his affection, screaming to be heard above the music the whole time. Such a thing gives a good punk rock sort of the edge to the song. Bob Mould's "I Apologize" is tighter and faster, again mixing speed and melodic. The song is emotional, but in a playful sort of way, with Mould apologizing to a friend (or lover?) for a stupid argument, but then asking the friend to admit that he was wrong as well. It's not the horribly wounded scream of "I Will Never Forget You", but perhaps just as valid and as resonant. The song is basically as you call it "punk-folk", as it could be stripped down to an acoustic guitar and nothing but (and probably has already on one of Mould's acoustic shows for all I know).
"Folk Lore" tackles the subject of history: misconceptions about it and the lack of reverence some may have towards it. It starts off as up-tempo, powerchord driven rock, similar perhaps to Nirvana's "In Bloom", then rushes into a great punk-folk chorus with some great vocal harmonies and screaming. The band rocks out as Mould tells us "how it really was back then" ("the women sowed the stars and stripes/the men, they fought the wars/children learned arithmatic/and everyone was bored") and then concludes it with a pessimistic rant about how things never really do change, capping it off with "your heroes always die". Powerful stuff, all within two minutes.
Grant Hart's "If I Told You" begins with a wash of melodic guitars, which then flows forward into a jacked up powerpop number, bettered especially by great backing vocals by Mould. This is one of the more pained songs of the album where Hart's rather minimalistic lyrics (centering on how much he's cried) detail a dysfunctional relationship. Whiny or resonant? You decided. For resonance though, few songs could really live up to "Celebrated Summer", a strong contender for the best Husker Du song ever. Starting off with a melodic bassline and a great guitar riff, it explodes into all-out rocker and reduces itself just an acoustic guitar and quiet singing for the more reflective moments. It's such a perfect balance between nostalgia and melancholy, reflecting on all the fun times had and the fun times missed during the summer time. One of the finest rock songs ever written. Bob Mould follows it up with the (slightly) quieter "Perfect Example", which features Bob on acoustic guitar with heavily distorted electric guitar and bass layered behind him. The lyrics are mumbled and whispered, but that doesn't take away from the overall affect (maybe it even enhances it). This sort of loud folk sounds what Pavement would be doing five or six years later.
Hart's "The Terms of Physic Warfare" has a great bouncy bassline and the fan manages to get into a great groove (kinda like "Gravity" from Everything Falls Apart), which turns into a great song that feels as if it should be played on all classic rock radio. Mould's "59 Times the Pain" is great as well: a fractured, brutal sort of intro, followed by quieter, more melodic verses that speed into a fast chorus. Probably the most emotionally pained song on the album, full of loathing of both the self and others. "Powerline" has a beautiful intro, reused for it's outro, with a similarly pretty sounding fast section in between. Mould's shouts struggle to be heard, but I think it adds to the effect, much like Hart's vocals on "Heaven Hill" do. For me, the song recalls the image of riding your bike down a long road underneath the high tension wires on a hot summer's day.
Hart's "Books About UFOs" is like nothing else anyone was doing at the time. A bouncy pop song with loud guitars, complete with pretty piano melody and vocal harmonies in the chorus. The lyrics are nicely whimsical, detailing a crush that Hart has on a girl who happens to be a major sci-fi enthusiast (though confusingly enough, he later came out with his homosexuality). "I Don't Know What You're Talking About" is a bit more of a rock number, complete with bad ass bass riff and call/response chorus. Following this is "How To Skin A Cat", which is basically a joke. It's a fun joke though with punkish chord bashing, weird psychedelic guitar work in places, and extremely gross lyrics. "Whatcha Drinkin'" is a straight forward thrash number, probably written with nostalgia for their hardcore punk roots. The rage, however, is replaced by Mould's jubilance at being able to beat his drinking problem (though I'm not sure whether he had actually done so by the time he recorded his song...probably not...) and the bridge betrays a band more skilled than your average punk band. Just as the album began with a mantra/sonic assault, it ends with one, though albeit a lengthier one. It starts off as a fast rock number, but then degenerates into a noise jam. Mould pretty pretty much shouts the same thing over and over, but the seeming message is a nice one: you've listened to the album, hopefully you enjoyed, now go DO something with yourself.
Essentially, the Huskers upped the pop melody and vocal harmonies for this one, but they didn't beat it to death...that's maybe the reason I'm higher on the last couple of songs on the album than you are. The production on the record is technically horrible, but it's actually for the album's benefit because the sound of the record gives a quality to it. Same thing happened to The Replacement's Tim . Both records got relatively shoddy production jobs, but in such a way that they got a unique sound that was later emulated by other bands (see good knows how many punk records from the 1990s and beyond to see how emulated New Day Rising was).
As much as I love Zen Arcade, I may have to give this one the duke has far as best Husker Du albums go. Perhaps this was their perfect most balance between their noisy, hardcore punk past and the powerpop/straightforward melodic rock sound that would dominate their last three releases. In any case, I give it a ten. One of the best records of the 80s and of all time.
Flip Your Wig / Every Everything / Makes No Sense at All / Hate Paper Doll / Green Eyes / Divide and Conquer / Games / Find Me / The Baby Song / Flexible Flyer / Private Plane / Keep Hanging On / The Wit and the Wisdom / Don’t Know Yet
With their third album in a mere 14 months, Mould, Hart, and Norton continued an admirable string of albums. This time, however, they decided to produce the album themselves, without any interference from Spot, one of SST’s house-producers, who had co-produced their previous efforts. The result is an album that sounds more polished than New Day Rising, without losing all of its punch. The guitar sound won’t offend anyone any longer: for the first time they sound like real guitars, and not some sort of futuristic killing device or industrial vacuum cleaner. The drum sound, on the other hand, is still ridiculously flat, although a drummer was sitting in the producer’s seat. More than ever before, the album’s influences are traceable, the band’s debt to The Beatles and (especially) The Byrds is more obvious than ever. However, they didn’t forget to write another bunch of catchy and rocking tracks either. The melodic title track that opens the album, accompanied by sleigh bells and big melodies, immediately sets the tone: gone is the hellish speed of their first albums, the anger and bitterness of Zen Arcade, and the manic tightness of New Day Rising. This album allows for some looser songs, some fun, and even a positive mood here and there (or am I confusing it with just ‘less negativity’?).
Even better than “Flip Your Wig” is “Makes No Sense at All,” in my opinion one of their (and of the 80’s) very best songs, an instantly catchy track that’s muscular and melodic, suitably short, and in which not one note is spilled (a few years later (1990), it was released as a double single with their stunning cover (recorded and released between Zen Arcade and New Day Rising) of The Byrds’ seminal song, “Eight Miles High”). Equally catchy is the short “Hate Paper Doll,” a fast and fun song that prepares us for another Hart-highlight. The melancholic love song “Green Eyes” proves once again that Hart was the romantic of the band, writing songs about dreams, and (often unattainable) women (although he later, like Mould, came out with his homosexuality), like this one. Other underrated Hart compositions are “Every Everything,” which has some great wailing guitars and a tight chorus, and the passionate “Keep Hanging On.” Mould, on the other hand, is the eternal doubter, the unsure and suffering one who is devoured by his conflicting emotions (anger, revulsion, or disappointment) and an ongoing quest for meaning and reassurance. By consequence, Hart’s songs are often more melodic than Mould’s, often boasting immediately recognisable melodies, while Mould’s tormented lyrics and music result in often less accessible and emotionally draining songs (although his songs would become considerably more accessible later on). Good examples are “Games” and “Find Me,” which share the same intensity, the first dealing with life’s tragedies (“I could still have some friends, if I only didn’t play the games I had to play, I was important when I was cool, now it gets lonely playing the fool”), the latter with Mould’s quest for recognition. One of the best tracks on the album might be “Divide and Conquer,” which seems to have no chorus at all, just a succession of verses, but which benefits from the capable guitar playing and passionate vocals. Other recommended tracks are Hart’s “Flexible Flyer,” which has restrained vocals that work well with the song’s concerns (“If your heart is a flame burning brightly, you’ll have light and never be cold, and soon you will know that you just grow, you’re not growing old”), and Mould’s “Private Plane.”
A less satisfying fact about the album is the inclusion of a few lesser tracks, a problem that also marred New Day Rising. They create a bunch of good to great songs, usually put the best of them in the beginning of the album, and a few at the beginning of the second half. However, there are always a few lesser tracks at the end of the album. Both “The Wit and the Wisdom” and “Don’t Know Yet” are instrumentals, and both of them are nothing to write home about. The first is a quite loud psychedelic-sounding workout, while the latter sounds dreamier, with pummelling piano notes and backward tapes (or something similar). Neither of them becomes an actual song, and Hart’s solo effort, “The Baby Song,” is also just an annoying melody played on a slide whistle that can also hardly be called a song. Despite these recurring problems, the majority of Flip Your Wig’s songs prove that the band was still at the peak of their powers at the time, and seemed capable of creating great music with their fingers up their nose. The fact that they’d largely abandoned their former abrasiveness and aggression was no reason to slow down their production rate or quality. Even when working in a more classical frame, these guys released their third great album in a row, which proved they were one of the few bands that really mattered during the mid-eighties.
Never content to rest of their prior accomplishments, Husker Du shows some major progression on Flip Your Wig while still holding onto the same vibe as New Day Rising. Here the band indulges in powerpop, straightforward rock and roll, and even a few grungey songs that predate Dinosaur Jr. and the rise of Seattle grunge. Had it been released just six years later, commercial radio would have savagely raped and molested this album. This isn't to say that Flip Your Wig is overtly commercial; this sounded nothing like the mainstream rock of 1985. Simply put, though, if any album should've broken the band through, this was probably it.
Describing the actual album can be somewhat superfluous, however. Pretty much all the riffs are good and all the solos Mould recorded are for the most part great. The rhythm section is always solid. The title track is one of the highlights of the album. Sonically, it's a fast rocker somewhere in-between the blissful pop-punk of The Buzzcock's "You Say You Don't Love Me" (which I heard was a favorite of the band) and Dinosaur Jr.'s rougher "Freak Scene". There's a quick trade off vocally between Mould and Hart, each detailing the amusements and consequences of their rise to semi-fame, and the song has no real chorus, perhaps alienating the band somewhat from mainstream acceptance in that manor. "Every Everything" is a more punkish tune, complete with bashing drums, wailing guitars, and some freaked out screaming by Hart.
Bob Mould then deals a fatal blow to the idea that he's the constantly brooding member of the band by delivering two songs back to back that are so damn fun. "Makes No Sense At All" builds a catchy refrain over a driving rock riff, ending up being one of those should-have-been radio classics. "Hate Paper Doll" is driven by Hart's drums and proves to be the bounciest, poppiest thing the band had done up to that point. Like "Makes No Sense At All", it's extremely infectious, but it goes by at a fast enough speed to rock you out while you're getting your pop fix. Grant Hart's "Green Eyes" in a total Husker Du classic. It's yet another one of those songs where everything comes together. A great bassline by Norton. Beautiful, but rocking and heavy guitar work by Mould. Hart's low key vocals and, of course, the complete and utter beauty of the chorus. Yet another one of the best rock songs of the 80s, followed, as usual, by yet another classic. Bob Mould's "Divide and Conquer" is the hardest and angriest song on the record. A great melodic guitar riff, driven into overdrive by the pounding drums and bass, topped off by Bob's angry barking about his sociology concerns. Yet another Husker Du classic. Ending what was originally the first side is "Games, the most melancholy song on the album. It's yet another one of my favorite songs by the band. The intro is powerpop, the verses are punkish, and the chorus is melodic. Bob's lyrics concern a person who was manipulative and fame seeking in his earlier years, but now that he's older and washed up, he has no one because he alienated all his friends. Great song-writing. The part where Bob sings "Just when you think that all your answers are right/You'll fade away and disappear from sight/The ones who said you're great will find another way" as he wreaks out a heavy, melodic guitar riff underneath remains one of my favorite moments of any Husker Du album.
The equally brooding "Find Me" is the slowest song on the album. Sonically, it's similar to the style of "grunge" that Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, and countless other bands would co-opt later. I could swear I heard a mellotron in the wordless chorus, but I'm not sure. The depressed tone of the last two songs make "The Baby Song" that much funnier. It's despised and for good reason, but it provides a nice bit of levity. Many bands would copy this approach later on and, more often than not, it usually sounded pretty forced. Grant Hart contributes the more strummed out, fuzz folk of "Flexible Flyer", which bares some thoughtful, philosophical lyrics (a break from his usual song writing subject---girls). Bob Mould's "Private Plane" (the beginning of a theme here?) is a more straightforward melodic rocker, similar to the title track. I honestly have no idea what the hell the lyrics could be about. Grant Hart's "Keep Hanging On" (another flying reference?) is the closest thing to a ballad on the record. Following a great bass intro, we get a clean, melodic guitar that would normally be used for a ballad, propelled into speedier territory by the rushing drums and bass. Hart turns in one of his best love songs with a strikingly passionate vocal performance.
For the last time, the Huskers end their album with an instrumental (or near-instrumental). Two of them in fact. Both songs are polar opposites. "The Wit and The Wisdom" is a lurching, metalish number where Bob indulges in some feedback drenched guitar jams. It would sound more at home on Metal Circus or Zen Arcade actually. "Don't Know Yet", on the other hand, is a very produced swirl of processed guitars and drums. It's short, but a pretty note to end the album on. I do agree with you, though, that the instrumentals seem kind of tacked on this time.
The bottom line on Flip Your Wig is that it's yet another great alternative rock album courtesy of Husker Du. Interestingly enough, I've heard that Warner Bros. wanted to put out this record when the band had signed to them, but Husker Du gave it to SST out of loyalty. Consequently, they may have shot themselves in the foot commercially, as the record company was less inclined to give a similar sort of push to Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse. Of course, perhaps the label's intent to push Flip Your Wig was a load of crap and the band never would've broken through commercially anyway. Maybe giving Flip Your Wig to SST was inadvertently the death blow to the band that would finally lead to it's destruction just two years later. It's all very hard to say.
Getting back on track, I can't say I like Flip Your Wig better than Zen Arcade and New Day Rising. It lacks the epicness of the former and the consistence of the later. I also feel a bit more diversity could've made the album better. It's still one of the better records of the 80s though. I give about a 9.5.
Crystal / Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely / I Don’t Know for Sure / Sorry Somehow / Too Far Down / Hardly Getting Over It / Dead Set on Destruction / Eiffel Tower High / No Promise Have I Made / All This I’ve Done for You
Largely recorded at the end of the year in which they released both New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig, Candy Apple Grey is the Hüskers’ shortest album since 1982’s Everything Falls Apart. It’s also the first of their albums that was distributed by a major company (Warner). At the time, they were one of the first indie bands to sign with a major label (bands like Sonic Youth, for instance, would do this 5 years later), so the album was anxiously anticipated by the band’s fan base, who were prepared for the worst thing imaginable. However, the result was far from a sell-out, but sounded like a logical evolution instead. Candy Apple Grey sounds very much like the previous album and contains only 10 songs (37 minutes), so the band apparently understood that some filler tracks had marred their previous albums, and weren’t intending to make the same mistake. This would work if they had the consistent material to do so. “Crystal,” the songs that opens the album, is a weird song, though, with music and vocals being almost the exact opposite of each other: it’s a powerful and melodic track, but the vocals sound truly manic and possessed, reminding of Mould’s enraged performance during Zen Arcade’s “Indecision Time,” with the same out-of-control intensity. The other songs on the album are less harsh, less angry, Hart’s “Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely” is one of the highlights: a rendition of a broken relationship (quite similar to “Never Talking to You Again”) with a great addictive melody and an unstoppable drive.
Similar is Hart’s second masterpiece, “Sorry Somehow,” a song that sounds as if it has always been around, with its simple structure, naturally flowing melody, use of organ, and a solo before the last verse that should’ve been louder to reach maximum effect. “Sorry Somehow” is also the first of the highlights that inhabit the middle section of the album, preceding Mould’s “Too Far Down” and “Hardly Getting Over It.” Both songs were probably not done by a former hardcore punk band (it’s not James Taylor we’re dealing with, remember?) during the mid 80’s, but this outfit never played it by the rules anyway. These two tracks are remarkable in their chilling honesty and sparseness: during “Too Far Down” there’s only Mould, his acoustic guitar, and his obsession with loss/death (“And you don’t want the emotion, because the taste it leaves is for real, but nothing’s ever real until it’s gone, and I might be too far down”), while during the more full-bodied “Hardly Getting Over It,” the emphasis again lies on loss, this time of friends and family members. Because of Mould’s gentle singing, the subtly ringing guitars, and the sparse use of piano, the song sounds incredibly vulnerable, but never stops to impress. Even the use of keyboards during the last part of the song adds more of a dreamy, hypnotic and soothing quality to the song, a peak in the band’s output and one that would influence generation of guitar-oriented bands willing to cut down the volume once in a while. Almost as good is the first part of Hart’s “No Promise Have I Made,” which is also a sober, piano-dominated track, but which seems to run out of ‘steam’ halfway the song. This is also exactly what happens to “Dead Set on Destruction” and “Eiffel Tower High.” Both songs contain some good ideas and would’ve been impressive tracks compared to other band’s standards, but compared to the mentioned highlights they’re a bit disappointing. A shorter effort, but still uneven, Candy Apple Grey contains a few tracks (“Don’t Want to Know,” “Sorry Somehow”) that gloriously maintain the previous albums’ quality level, and two daring tracks that were unlike anything the band had ever done before. It would point out, however, which territory Hart and Mould would revisit on later solo efforts. Half of the album is classic material, while the other half seems a bit meagre to qualify as ‘essential.’ But hey, think about what the other options were at the time, and you’ll undoubtedly cherish this album.
The opener "Crystal" must've come as a shock. It's a slow, dirgey sort of number with an extremely angry Bob Mould screaming gloomy, apocalyptic lyrics. Not only is it one of Husker Du's most visceral songs, but it very much made a statement; Husker Du were going to be just as uncompromising on Warner Bros. as they were on SST. Grant Hart's "Don't Want To Know If You're Lonely" is the fastest song on the record and rocks the best out of any of the songs here. The fast drumming, Norton's melodic bass, Mould's melancholy guitar line and Hart's lyrics detailing the aftermath of a broken relationship all come together to make the song work. I especially like the breakdown in the middle of the song, nicely paving the way for similar offerings by later early 90s bands who took this style and road it into the ground. Bob Mould's "Don't Know For Sure" slows things down to normal speed and strikes me as a more angst-ridden rewrite of "Makes No Sense At All", though crashing powerchords replace Grant Hart's drum solos (btw, the drum sound is noticeably improved on this record). It's decent and not really distracting, but the band could've done better. In any case, it manages to support the mood created by the first two songs and bleeds well into the next one. "Sorry Somehow" is a nice left turn, however. On top of the brisk, powerchord-driven punk number is an ORGAN of all things, giving the song a nice lush, flowing feel. Maybe you could even call "Sorry Somehow" the punk/alternative equivalent of "Hey Jude" if you want to go that far. In any event, it's yet another great song, lyrically giving another perspective on the themes present in "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely". While the prior song was written from the perspective of a guy who was sympathetic to his ex-lover's emotional state (though ultimately unbudging), the narrator of "Sorry Somehow" is more angst-ridden and less sure of himself. The lyric "I'd give you everything in the world/Just to get it out of the way" is particularly memorable.Topped off with Grant Hart's passionate vocal performance and a great guitar break by Mould and we have ourselves yet another classic Husker Du song.
After that left turn, we get yet another. A bunch of weird Indian (???) sounds serve as an intro and just Bob Mould and his acoustic guitar rise up from it, beginning "Too Far Down". On paper the lyrics may seem ordinary, even cliche, but Bob brings them to life with an extremely passionate performance and makes you live them. It's pure emotional despair without a hint of irony. It seems as if Bob just sat down with his guitar and wrote the song completely from the top of his gut, perhaps pioneering the whole watered-down "emo-punk" thing. Perhaps "Too Far Down" is the perfect song for when you just don't want to get out of bed in the morning. Continuing in the ballad vein is the full band "Hardly Getting Over It", which is just as good as you described. It's the longest song on the album, the most mellow, and much more lyrically than "Too Far Down". It's also just as emotional, though perhaps in a more resigned way. The emphasis is on the tragedies of life; from the bad things that happen to our friends, to people we barely know (the man on the railroad track), and the unavoidable deaths of our loved ones. The part where Bob ponders what he's going to do when his parents eventually die is perhaps his most vulnerable moment on any Husker Du record and, really, it takes balls to write lines like that and mean them. The keyboard solo and the brooding bassline are just icing on the cake.
The band takes a turn back to the loud with Grant Hart's slow burning "Dead Set On Destruction", which is okay to sing along to but doesn't really do anything for me. Musically, it's pretty repetitive and the lyrics seem to concern flying home through a hurricane. Kind of out of place considering the emotion and depressive mood of the six prior tracks. Bob Mould's "Eiffel Tower High", though, is a total reprieve from the album's mood (though it arguably never sustains it again after "Hardly Getting Over It") and it works out well, in my opinion. Poppy as all hell in the verses and fast in the chorus, Bob tells the whimsical tale of a girl who "buys herself a seat/and sits on the floor" but this girl also "never looks beyond the mirror/or the image that appears". Couple that with his replacing "I Scream" with "Ice Cream" on whim, you get a refreshingly playful song that foreshadows the approach the band would take on Warehouse. Yet another stylistic detour is taken with Grant Hart's "No Promise Have I Made" which starts as a gentle piano ballad with oblique lyrics (kind of reminding me of R.E.M.'s "Perfect Circle") and sometimes ear splitting vocals. I always felt the merging of pretty piano and noisy feedback present on this track paved the way for Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have". I haven't found an example of such a song in the alternative rock ranks prior to it. I really like near the end when the bass and drums kick it, giving the song a more rock and roll sort of boost. It's too bad the Huskers didn't attempt any more ballads after this. They were (unsurprisingly) good at it. The final track "All This I"ve Done For You" is my least favorite. Essentially it's a faster rewrite of "Crystal", ruined somewhat by the vocal effects Bob uses. That little bit of overproduction definitely isn't to my taste. The song would've been better had the band just banged it out like back in the Metal Circus days. It's a less than stellar cap off to a damn good album.
Overall, though, Candy Apple Grey is a good album, a notch or two below the holy trinity. The song-writing is still strong, but not quite as consistently so, and the band was very much willing to expand sonically on this one. Perhaps the band's greatest accomplishment on this record was proving they could turn down the speed and volume on certain songs. Sure, there were songs like "Never Talking To You Again" and "Perfect Example" before (though the later of which was still kinda noisy), but this is the first (and only) Husker Du release where the band put emphasis on it. During the New Day Rising/Flip Your Wig era, the band also used to take out acoustic guitars after their regular sets and play unplugged versions of their songs to indifference or scorning "punk rawk" kids who only wanted to thrash around. That must've been something to see.
Still, I wish they had written a few more great songs for this album. "Don't Know For Sure", "Dead Set On Destruction" and "All This I've Done For You" don't exactly inspire much resistance in me towards the skip button and with just ten songs on the CD, that isn't good. The best moments on the album make up for it well, however, and the album as a whole is certainly better than those of many bands who would take this style, record a few hit singles with it, and then load the rest of the album with decidedly lesser songs. I'd give Candy Apple Grey a solid 8.5, maybe an 8 at the very least and a weak 9 at the most.
These Important Years / Charity, Chastity, Prudence and Hope / Standing in the Rain / Back from Somewhere / Ice Cold Ice / You’re a Soldier / Could You Be the One? / Too Much Spice / Friend, You’ve Got to Fall / Visionary / She Floated Away / Bed of Nails / Tell You Why Tomorrow / It’s Not Peculiar / Actual Condition / No Reservations / Turn It Around / She’s a Woman (and Now He Is a Man) / Up in the Air / You Can Live at Home
There they are again, with their fifth (!) album (second double album) in little over three years. Despite this ridiculous work ethic, the horrible psychedelic album cover (I hate fluorescent colors), and the awkward (yes, that is a euphemism) production job done by Mould and Hart, they still hadn't come up with a disappointing album. Many stories have been around, telling the trio were in the middle of a terrible crisis during the record sessions of the past two or three albums, with addictions (alcohol, and Hart had become an heroin addict as well), psychological warfare, fights and unsolvable tensions between Hart and Mould, who were often rumored to have been lovers. Anyway, it’s not essential here, but what’s worth pointing out, is that Hart never got to do as many songs as Mould on an album. Each one of the albums since Zen Arcade had at least one or two Hart classics, but he never got to do more than just a handful. On this double album, it’s almost even, as Mould provides 11 songs, and Hart 9 (much later Hart would tell that Mould used to claim that as long as he’d be in the band, Hart would never get to do his 10 songs). Another thing that has often been said is that this album is supposed to sound as if they were on the verge of a breakdown, and that the main songwriters’ songs were the exact opposites of each other. Well, I don’t get that. I agree that the difference between a Hart song and a Mould song is quite easy to make, but this album sounds still way too focused to be considered an album that hangs together by loose ends.
Essentially, the band continues the sound and style they’d distilled during the previous albums, creating a razor-sharp version of often poppy and sometimes psychedelic ‘distorto-pop’, with lots of hooks, ringing guitars and a punk intensity underneath it all. While albums like New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig offered a quite varied bunch of songs (all-out feedback-rock, folk-rock, ragged power pop, psychedelic instrumentals), there’s more of a stylistic unity on this long album (20 songs, almost 70 minutes). Therefore it’s no use discussing all of the songs separately, as both songwriters turn in some good and great songs. Mould’s “These Important Years” that always reminds me of Candy Apple Grey’s “Eiffel Tower High,” is a great album opener that has their trademark catchiness and powerful musicianship. Other Mould-highlights are “Standing in the Rain” that is bouncy and boasts some of the most lovable melodies on the album; the psychedelic-tinged “Ice Cold Ice” that has an awesome chorus (with backing vocals by Hart) and some great pumping bass; “Could You Be the One,” perhaps their greatest pop song since Flip Your Wig’s “Makes No Sense at All”; the intensely melancholic “Bed of Nails” and the lengthier “No Reservations.” Some of Hart’s best contributions are the poppy “Back from Somewhere,” sounding very similar to what he’d do with his next project, Nova Mob; the wonderful “She Floated Away,” with its weird psychedelic drumming and sing along-chorus; and “Too Much Spice,” about the need for thrills, which has a great melancholy guitar solo. Elsewhere, during “Actual Condition” the band gets as close to traditional rock 'n' roll as they would ever get; during “Charity, Chastity, Prudence and Hope” Hart provides some ringing percussion, and the lengthy “Turn It Around” succeeds in being both wistful and bouncy at the same time.
Not each song is a triumph, however, since Hart’s “You’re a Soldier” sounds simply too repetitive and Mould’s “It’s Not Peculiar” stays a bit too tame. Because of the album’s length and the stylistic unity it may also take you awhile to be able to differentiate between the different songs, especially during the second half of the album. On the other hand, this may be the most consistent of all their albums: it doesn’t have the gut-wrenching harshness and brutal assault of Zen Arcade or New Day Rising, the sustained punk-pop of Flip Your Wig or the emotionally honest ballads of Candy Apple Grey, but it’s an enormously inspiring album without songs that can immediately be categorized as filler (how often does that happen on a 70-minute album?). Sadly enough, it would prove to be the band’s swan song, since tensions between Hart and Mould couldn’t be overcome. Hart slipped further into heroin addiction, and their manager, David Savoy, committed suicide at the end of 1987. The band’s main songwriters would both stay active (especially Mould), while Norton would return to his first love: cooking (he’s a chef). The legacy they left behind can’t be underrated, as they influenced loads and loads of bands, both directly and indirectly. More important to me personally: they were one of the few bands that could fulfill all the things I’ve been seeking in rock music: emotion, intensity, superb musicianship, great songs and the spirit of true rock ‘n’ roll.
Still, I can't say I like Warehouse as much as the best Husker Du records. There's twenty songs here. Many of them in the same style. A bit excess and sometimes hard to get through. The break neck space of the previous records is gone in favor of the instruments simply going at their own pace. The emphasis is more on the poppish choruses than ever before. None of these elements are inherently bad, but it all contributes to the overall samey sounding effect this album has. Warehouse, while far from bad, is no Zen Arcade or Double Nickels On the Dime or even London Calling.
But many albums aren't and that's no real reason to hold anything against this. Bob Mould and Grant Hart are still fine songwriters and their healthy appreciation for 60s pop is what they coast on here. Mould's "These Important Years" opens the album with a rocking guitar riff, soon joined by leisurely paced bass and drums, finally joined by Mould singing (as opposed to his barking style--somewhat missed here) philosophical lyrics about stopping to smell the roses in life. Hart's "Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope" follows the same design, but with vocal and sound effects to "pop" the song up even further. Mould's "Standing In the Rain" is an absolute classic---if you define classic by "song that I really like a lot"--- with bombastic, bouncing guitar playing and lyrics about being stood up, perhaps even deserving it. Hart goes back to the powerpop well again with "Back >From Somewhere"--perhaps a bit faster and catchier---before Mould comes back with "Ice Cold Ice", which starts off dark and melodic, then speeds up into pop-punk number. After that we are subjected to Hart's first and only real DUD of the record---if you define DUD by "a song that I kinda hate"---"You're A Soldier"...a rather trying psychedelic attempt built around an annoyingly repetitive drum beat. There's a fine line between trancey and boring...guess where this one falls.
I consider "Could You Be
the One?", "Too Much Spice" and "Friend, You've
Got To Fall" the trinity of the album...kind of like "Threshold",
"Pride", and "I'll Never Forget You" off of Zen
Arcade. All the songs are slightly speedy powerpop/pop-punk numbers
with catchy choruses and loud guitars...all of which remind me muchly
of the Buzzcocks. "Friend, You've Got To Fall" is my favorite
of the three, thanks to the great guitar work. "Visionary"
is slightly more punkish. Hart's "She Floated Away" is another
classic--a mid-tempo number, bordering on a sea chanty of all things,
with cool drumming and the somewhat psychedelic image of a girl "folding
her arms and floating away".
The finest stretch of songs on this album, though, are the final five. "No Reservations" is a pretty, moving, almost ballad, perfect when an uplifting pop song is needed on a lonely friday night drive. "Turn It Around" is another blissfully poppy track, cut from the same bouncy cloth as "Standing In the Rain" and embellished with keyboards. "She's A Woman (and now he is a man)" contains some of Hart's finest lyrics, detailing a couple with "a vacancy between them everyday". Mould's final song for Husker Du, "Up In the Air", is acoustic driven, mixed with loud guitars. Such a style would eventually be ravaged by many mainstream "punk" and "hard rock" acts. With the wonderful "You Can Live At Home", the Huskers inadvertently say their goodbye. It's a truly a great song---great guitar work by Mould and a wonderfully funky bassline from Norton. Hart's lyric---his repetition of "keep walk, walk, walking away" especially---is particularly beautiful and poignant.
And so ended the run of one of the best bands I've ever heard. Warehouse isn't my favorite Husker Du record and I really can't say it was the product of the band at it's peak, but it's definitely a good swan song and a very solid, sometimes even great record. Rating wise it probably gets an 8 and perhaps that's being a bit generous considering how overlong and somewhat bloated the album is. Still, their amount of output in four years is very impressive, perhaps even more so than that of the Clash and Warehouse definitely has the song writing edge over their records from the hardcore, pre-Metal Circus days.
Interestingly enough, Husker Du used to play this album from start to finish during their live shows from this period and saved the old songs for the encore. Those must've been interesting shows...
Eight Miles High / Masochism World / Makes No Sense At All / Love Is All Around
If you ask me which song I consider the greatest one that has ever been recorded, the answer will probably be 'Hüsker Dü's version of The Byrds' "Eight Miles High"' I am well aware this will sound like shameless blasphemy to many ears… What? His favorite song is a COVER? A cover of one of the best singles of an era during which so many fantastic songs/albums were released that hardly anyone could keep up? Yes, it is. There you got it, what you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Of course the original, recorded in January of 1966 (17 years before this version), is fantastic as well: that pumping bass intro, the rumbling percussion, the harmonies that are both strikingly beautiful and forebodingly dark, McGuinn's semi-chaotic 12-string Rickenbacker playing, the hints of jazz and Eastern sounds; it's ear candy of the highest order. The band's revolutionary merger of folk-rock and psychedelic music would prove to be highly influential and notorious because of the drug-references, which they vehemently denied - but is anyone really gonna believe that? Not with a song that so prominently features that key word ("high"), vaguely trippy lyrics and guitar solos that are nowadays considered the definition of "druggy." Hüsker Dü - and especially Mould - had always considered themselves a kind of "pop" band (even though their first releases mainly excelled at velocity and aggression), one that was heavily indebted to the revolutionary sounds and concerns of the late 60's (they included a cover of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" on Everything Falls Apart, remember?). They'd performed "Eight Miles High" live a few times in '83 and when they recorded it during the Zen Arcade-sessions, the band entered its creative and productive peak. At this time, the band was a cult sensation and still commercially irrelevant (Land Speed Record was still their best-selling album - 10.000 copies), but Mould afterwards said (as you can read in Michael Azerrad's essential Our Band Could Be Your Life) that they knew they were on to something with the new material. They were indeed, as they became one of the best bands in the history of rock music for a while, and kicked off their titanic momentum with one of rock music's finest moments, when the "Eight Miles High"-single was released in the spring of 1984. If you thought that the original single already had an eerie, paranoid vibe to it, I dare you to check out the devastating cry of anxiety that Hüsker Dü's version is. Although you could label it 'hardcore punk', 'alternative guitar rock', 'modern psychedelica' or whatever, it's more than just a piece of music. It's a statement, a gut-turning blast of emotion, a sonic thunderstorm and one of the most intense things you'll ever hear. The bass intro is replaced by Mould's distorted guitar, which rages on throughout the entire song. To today's standard, the song sounds horrible, the Gibson sounds like a blanket of confused noise, the drums sound trebly and the vocals are muffled, but MAN… The Byrds never recorded anything this intensely melancholic, insane and desperate. Mould's vocals become increasingly manic and by the time he gets to the third verse, he's barely understandable. During the second part, his vocals might as well be meaningless, nothing but an outcry, howled passion over a dense guitar racket. As Azerrad also argues: at this point, the band went way beyond the confines of "punk", they were making music you could cry to, music that could turn you upside down, make that made you feel you were alive and alter your perception of music. It's exactly the core of the song, the honest, bare-naked passion and intensity that's the key element of all the rock 'n' roll that I love. Music doesn't have to be measured in insane dB-levels, but when its intensity and sincerity are thisreal, it makes more of an impact than any amount of amplifiers can conjure up. Never ever has any song by any artist (no, not even The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Who, Led Zeppelin or any other classic rock band you can think of) made such an impression on this guy. The single was originally released in 1984, but in 1990, it was paired with the excellent "Makes No Sense At All"-single from 1985. Even though that song also appeared on Flip Your Wig, the version included here seems slightly different: less distorted and a bit brighter. The B-sides are basically toss-offs: a live version of Zen Arcade's "Masochism World" that sounds even worse than most on Land Speed Record and a cutesy "Love Is All Around," also known as the Mary Tyler Moore Show-theme. It doesn't make sense to hand out the maximum score to a release on which two songs are hardly interesting (except for the HD-fanatics), but because "Eight Miles High" never appeared on any album and remains a shatteringly brilliant mini-chapter in the history of rock 'n' roll, it has to get the highest score. No Hüsker Dü-collection is complete without it and it's one of the crucial items in my music collection. It's one of those things, you know… they make life so much more interesting.
New Day Rising / Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill / Standing in the Rain / Back from Somewhere / Ice Cold Ice / Everytime / Friend, You’ve Got to Fall / She Floated Away / From the Gut / Target / It’s Not Funny Anymore / Hardly Getting Over It / Terms of Psychic Warfare / Powerline / Books About UFO’s / Divide and Conquer / Keep Hanging On / Celebrated Summer / Now That You Know Me / Ain’t No Water in the Well / What’s Going On? / Data Control / In a Free Land / Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
It was rather late in the day (7 years after the break-up of the band) to come up with this epitaph, but the quality of the release easily makes up for it. It was recorded during their last tour of ’87, supporting their latest double-album, shortly after their manager David Savoy committed suicide. Several sources mention the moral of the members was at an all-time low, but it didn’t affect their performances. They’d started out as an impossibly loud hardcore band, and seven years later they still understood the meaning of the words “dedicated” and “intense” better than anyone else, despite the far more polished stuff of the last three albums. The 24 songs - 77 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll - are probably not a good introduction to their career highlights (too many of the band’s classics are missing, and there’s only one track from the seminal Zen Arcade), but in a way it’s quite representative of the stages the band went through, even though the focus is on material from New Day Rising (five songs) and Warehouse (six songs). The band kicks off the gig in the best way imaginable, with the hard-hitting mantra of “New Day Rising,” followed by Hart’s terrific “Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill.”
Already during the latter it’s obvious the recordings have been tampered with, the drums suddenly getting much more reverb. The album could’ve used a ‘heavier’ foundation as well, but also that is fitting in the light of their last few albums. The trio chose at least one or two songs from each other release, but most of the songs get the same raucous treatment. Early in the set, Mould’s “Ice Cold Ice” is another highlight (what a kick-ass chorus, and those backing vocals of Hart blend in perfectly with Mould’s), “Target” is played with a mercilessly brutal attack, the restrained passion of “Hardly Getting Over It” send chills down your spine and the bounce of “Books About UFO’s” will make you wonder where that suddenly came from. Furthermore, the band’s relentless take on “Celebrated Summer” once again shows how they managed to combine melody with power, while the bludgeoning noise-fest of “Data Control” crunches everything on its path (although Land Speed Record already contained the definitive version). Fortunately, there are also a few treats for the hardcore fans that want more than live versions of album tracks: Norton’s “Everytime” (probably the most one-dimensional song on the album) and Mould’s “Ain’t No Water in the Well” appear for the first (and last) time, Hart’s “Now That You Know Me” would later end up on his first solo album Intolerance, and the band also tackles the early single “In a Free Land” before it launches into a faithful rendition of the Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” complete with ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’. Like I mentioned above, there’s been a lot of speculation about the reason(s) that led to the break-up of the band. Allegedly, Hart became a hard drug-addict after Candy Apple Grey, while Mould on the other hand, kicked his alcohol & speed habit. There’s of course also their legendary rivalry (for years, Hart would say that Mould simply told him he’d never get to do half of the songs – Warehouse contains 11 Mould songs and 9 by Hart) and the fact that Warner wasn’t very pleased with the last album’s sales (although they eventually reached the target of 125,000 copies) and inability to penetrate into the mainstream.
The premature death of Savoy was probably the last drop and, at the end of 1987, the band gave it a rest. While Norton retired and became a chef, both Hart and Mould debuted with solo albums in 1989. Hart continued the experiments with visual art (he always did the cover art, remember?), performed with people such as William Burroughs and Patti Smith, but his music career was sparser, with only two studio solo albums, a few EP’s and two albums with his scandalously neglected band, Nova Mob. Mould, on the other hand, released four solo albums on his own and a few with the beloved and terrific Sugar before he converted to electronica on 2002’s Modulate. Nowadays, he’s making more of that using the name Loudbomb (yes, it’s an anagram). It only goes to show their restless minds won’t allow them to stop creating and experimenting, even after having created a legacy by their mid-twenties no one would even hope to improve upon. While Zen Arcade was, probably more than any other album, the album responsible for completely altering my perception of music, their entire catalogue is a testament to the band’s uncompromising dedication, independence and talent. Great, great band.