I have a long history with Bob Mould. Not to say that i know the guy personally, since we have never even met. I am just saying that i have been following Bob's work for a long time now. In 1992 i first heard the album Copper Blue by his band Sugar. I fell in love with lead single Changes, which pretty much dominated the airwaves at WRAS back in the days when that station played nothing but weird music.
I discovered that there was a lot of Bob Mould to listen, and i have spent lots of time exploring his catalog. There is much to like there, even if i have not been following too closely in the past decade or so...
Bob even has a saying that made it into the cultural lingo here at EvilSponge HQ. We went to see him play a solo show back in the mid 1990s. I think he was on tour for his 1996 self-titled solo LP, and i want to say he played at The Center Stage. At any rate, it was just Bob, a guitar, and his dog. He brought his black lab with him, and the dog kind of laid on the stage near him while he played, looking bored. Bob also was running a cold, something he apologized for several times. At one point between songs while he was tuning, he leaned to the mic to say something, then thought better of it, perhaps being self-conscious that the cold meds were making him chatty. So he leaned back to tuning and muttered, "Shut up and play, Bob." I don't know if it was picked up by the mic and everyone heard that, or just the dorks right in front of the stage.
That little aside has become a catch-phrase for us. See an overly chatty band? "Shut up and play, Bob." Find yourself procrastinating? "Shut up and play, Bob." Malimus going off on a rant? "Shut up and play, Bob." It works in so many situations...
So, you see, i have a long history with Bob. And this explanation has gone on too long. "Shut up and play, Bob."
Beauty & Ruin is the eleventh solo record from Bob Mould. This time he is working in his preferred format, the power trio. The album features his long-time touring band of drummer John Wurster (also in EvilSponge faves Superchunk) and bassist Jason Narducy, who is the touring bassist in Superchunk.
The record starts off with a slow, sad kind of song called Low Season. Bob's guitar moans, the rhythm section thuds, and Bob moans his lyrics of loss while the distortion grows until it eventually overwhelms the entire song. And then he ramps up the aggression with Little Glass Pill. His guitar tears by while Bob's growl goes from mournful to annoyed. To be honest, i like it when Bob Mould is annoyed. This is a good rocker.
Single I Don't Know You Anymore is next. This is the one that brought me to this album, via a video that circulated the music blog world in the spring of 2014. It's a typical Bob Mould silly pop song that starts with Bob yelling,
A thousand pieces of my heart
Swept across a weathered floor
And no idea of how start
Solving puzzles from before
Maybe in time this confusion will fade
With every single error we made
Is right there on display
Awwww, Bob. It's alright dude. Sometimes Bob makes these happy little tunes that make me want to bounce around, and then when i really focus on the lyrics i hear something that makes me want to pat Bob on the shoulder and give him a cookie. It'll be okay... Still, this is a bouncey little tune, and i love it.
Kid with Crooked Face hearkens all the way back to Hüsker Dü, Bob screaming and pounding the shit out of his guitar while Wurster and Narducy struggle to keep up. Loud, fast, and angry. Bob slows it back down for Nemeses Are Laughing, a grinding pop tune at mid-tempo that reminds me of early Sugar.
The War is just insanely catchy, Bob playing a jaunty guitar riff while Wurster and Narducy pound along mightily. This one just gets me bouncing along happily. On Forgiveness Bob picks up the acoustic and strums while an organ chimes and Wurster plays like Indoor Living-era 'Chunk. Another great tune that gets me bouncing.
On Hey Mr. Grey Bob actually sings "Get off my yard!" Ha! Brilliant -- he understands that his fan base are all old fogies, and you kids better stay the hell outta my yard or else i'll beat you with a copy of Black Sheets of Rain! It's a fun little song.
Fire in the City is another rocker along the lines of The War, and has a really nice chorus with Narducy and Wurster adding backing vocals. Tomorrow Morning continues in the same spirit.
Let the Beauty Be is another acoustic song, and it reminds me of Bob's 1989 album Workbook. That's one of my faves, so i really like this song. It's a really pretty song, especially once Wurster comes in with subtle drumming alongside Bob's strumming. Really pretty. And then i realized that Bob asks "Have you ever really wanted to die?" in the song. Sigh. Cookie, Bob? Again this is not a happy tune, but it is poppy and bouncy.
Finally we wrap things up with Fix It, another noisy rocker, Wurster and Narducy pounding away while Bob saws at his guitar and yells. A good end to the record.
This is a great record, one of my favorites of the year. And it is Bob's best work since Copper Blue, in my opinion. You might hesitate to go pick up a copy, but all i have to say to that is, "Shut up and play Bob."