Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Flip Your Wig - Husker Du



Flip Your Wig
Husker Du 
SST  SST 055
1985

I went to the Bob Mould tribute show at Disney Hall last November and was really impressed.  I was a fan of Husker Du back in the 1980s but I never caught them live.  I didn't follow Mould's solo career very closely and I was lukewarm about his next band Sugar.  Hearing the full scope of his career at the show opened my eyes to the depth and quality of his work through the years.  There is no denying the man has his own distinctive and instantly recognizable style.  Half the show consisted of guest artists interpreting his work and then Mould took the stage and rocked the house, much of the time accompanied by Dave Grohl.  The two of them played some of the most sizzling rock I've heard in a long time.  At one point Grohl set his guitar down and sat at the drum kit.  I was sitting fairly close to him and I could practically feel the concussive waves of sound reverberating from him pounding the skins, he is such a great drummer.  Of course Grant Hart was a talented drummer too and though I have a new appreciation for Mould's solo work, it is his partnership with Hart in Husker Du that still appeals to me the most.  This was their final album for SST.  It is not the best, but I still like it a lot.  In Husker Du I tend to prefer Hart's songs from a musical standpoint, they seem more dynamic and less formulaic and I prefer Mould's in terms of lyrics, his songs have a deeper vision and more creative use of language.  I think Mould came up with the best song on this album, the classic "Makes No Sense At All."  This was the only song from this album that he did at the tribute show.   The song dissects a conceited acquaintance.  With its mixture of a strong melody and a pounding beat, the loud, ringing guitar chords and the steady driving rhythm as well as Mould's raspy almost ragged vocals, it is an archetypal Mould song.  I never get tired of it.  Other Mould songs that I like on the album include "Flip Your Wig" which finds Mould trying to adjust to the band's growing fame.  The contrapuntal vocal at the end is really exciting.  "Games" is another good song in which Mould examines the price of trying to fit in and to accommodate other people's expectations at the cost of one's individuality.  It blends a pop sensibility and a hard rock attack admirably.  "Divide and Conquer" tackles themes of alienation, paranoia and social isolation.  It is slower than hardcore, but its simple chord structure and relentless riffing remind me of Husker Du's punk-rock roots.  Mould's vocal is more urgent than is typical with him.  "Hate Paper Doll" has a very catchy hook and relatively simple lyrics although I still have trouble figuring out what he's complaining about.  I'm not sure what "Find Me" is about either, but it sounds like Mould had a real bad vacation.  It is delivered at a slower tempo than most of the songs on the album, which I find refreshing and it gives him more room to showcase his guitar playing.  "Private Plane" is also enigmatic but I guess that it is endorsing the power of imagination and self-reliance.  Musically it rocks out fiercely and its soaring melody is exhilarating to listen to.  Lots of great guitar work on this one as well.  The album concludes with a couple of  instrumentals by Mould, "The Wit and Wisdom" and "Don't Know Yet."  The former is kind of prog-rock meets punk-rock, lots of crazed guitar soloing against a heavy bass riff.  It doesn't really go anywhere, but it is kind of fun.  The latter sounds more like a backing track waiting for some vocals, but I like the psychedelic guitar noodling.  If I heard it isolated from the rest of the album I'd never guess it was Husker Du.  The instrumentals are decent enough but I think they weaken the finish of an otherwise strong album.  Hart has fewer songs but they are among the album's best.  Whereas Mould's songs seem consumed by angst, Hart embraces simple pleasures and expresses a lot of warmth.  Hart's "Flexible Flyer" is my second favorite song on the album.  It has wonderful lyrics about the magic of childhood and trying to retain that magic as you get older.  It also has one of Hart's best pop melodies, it makes me happy when I hear it just like a sunshine pop song.  "Keep Hanging On" is a charming romantic song.  Despite its soothing portrait of domestic bliss, the song is a powerful rocker with a throat shredding, passionate vocal from Hart.  This track is another highlight of the album.  Hart's "Every Everything" is a simple love song, it seems trite compared to Mould's compositions, but it rocks out ferociously, it is a tremendously energetic song.   Hart does have a couple of duds though.  "Green Eyes" is another love song, but musically it is lackluster and monotonous.  "The Baby Song" is pure self-indulgence and should have been left off the album.  To my mind Husker Du and the Replacements were the best hard rock bands of the 1980s.  All of Husker Du's mature albums are an essential part of rock history that every rock fan should own.  I wish they had a longer run, but boy they sure did burn bright while they lasted.  Recommended for people who are bored by the simplicity of hardcore punk but like the energy.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic album (as are most of Husker Du's)! I spent quite a lot of time listening to this back in college. Bob Mould is sort of the Pete Townshend of punk/post-punk (or whatever you might want to call Husker Du's music). Not really sure what that analogy means, really, but it feels right. I even have a soft spot for "The Baby Song," but yes, it could certainly have been left off...

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  2. I think that is a good analogy. Townshend and Mould both share a knack for propulsive tunes and thoughtful, unusually intelligent (for their genres) lyrics.

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