I missed out on Hüsker Du as a teenager. I vividly remember seeing the huge displays for Warehouse: Songs and Stories at the mall record store and thinking they were really going overboard for a band I never heard of. Flash forward a few years and I see the video for Bob Mould’s “See a Little Light” and I was immediately a fan. If there was any doubt 1990’s Black Sheets of Rain with its sonic darkness only confirmed I was following the right path. So here we are, thirty years post Workbook, and Mould is still cranking out his unique brand of brain melting alt-rock with the release of Sunshine Rock on Merge Records.
If there is an artist who has had a latte- day career resurgence such as the one experienced by Bob Mould I am not sure who it is. Over the last seven years he has released, counting Sunshine Rock, four albums of impeccable quality. Instead of trying to recapture past glories or deliver something insincere he has pushed forward and in doing so, rediscovered the passion and fire that seemed to propel his earlier works. Recorded with longtime co-horts Jon Wurster on Drums and Jason Narducy on bass Sunshine Rock has a deceptively happy title but the songs are not all smiles and happiness. The title track kicks off a little bouncy and immediately draws you in. “What Do You Want Me to Do” is instantly crunchy and the opening line sung with an urgency Mould has made his own, signals that he and the band have not given up their past musical inclinations. The gauntlet has been thrown down for whoever wants to try and dethrone them.
“Sunny Love Song” is upbeat and a little less crunchy but it is high energy and you have to love the visual imagery of lines like “thrown like gravel over ice”. “Thirty Dozen Roses” grabs you immediately as Mould’s visceral guitar work rips into you. When you hear songs like this it makes you wonder if Dave Grohl realizes he has aped Mould and company for most of his career. “The Final Years” stands out from the crowd, Moulds vocals are up front while bass, drums, strings and keys take the musical focal point. The subject matter resonates and showcases another aspect of his talent while not seeming out of place. “I Fought” is textbook Mould with strong passionate vocals set back behind his pulsing guitar work. I know people like to read into things, which I typically try to avoid doing but this reads like a letter to Grant Hart. May be wrong, may be right, just a thought. “Sin King” is magnificent with its indictment of our current political climate delivered with a gritty jangle and a pounding, throbbing beat. The urgency in the vocals reaching out over the waves of sound delivers one of the albums standout moments. “Western Sunset” closes the collection and is by far the most poppy song on the album and the Beach Boys/Matthew Sweet inspired backing vocals help close out Sunshine Rock on the right note.
With the album inspired by his move to Berlin I think I feared Sunshine Rock with its advanced hype and its catchy red and yellow swirly cover art was going to be an upbeat, pop laden disaster of record. It isn’t, not in the least. It is an introspective and outward thinking exercise in how impactful words and music can be. It absolutely holds its own and fits nicely into the catalog alongside Silver Age, Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky. It is the picture of an artist forty years down the line, not focusing on the past but instead looking forward at the glories to come. I’m sure it would be easy for Mould to make the third or fifth version of Copper Blue but honestly, at this point, where would the fun in that be for anyone?