So who’s this dude with the funny name then? Many of you may be wondering just that, but if you’re familiar with ’80s hardcore punks Husker Du or ’90s pseudo grunge act Sugar, then you’ve heard Mr Mould in action. Both groups produced critically acclaimed and hugely influential albums and Bob is certainly one talented man. He’s also been a successful solo artist since the Late ’80s. So, where’s the 51 year old at musically in 2012?
Silver Age is Mouldy’s 10th solo album, and even when he was a member of Husker Du and Sugar he was pretty much the main man and chief songwriter. So he’s quite well practiced at musically leading from the front.
Riffs. This album is full of them. Chiming, fuzzy, aggressive, melodic, you name it. It’s most definitely a guitar driven work, as are most of his (considerably numerous) musical efforts. But Silver Age is a little bit different. Certainly comparisons can be made with Sugar’s classic album Copper Blue (which won NME’s album of the year in 1992), but there are several notable improvements (Yeah that’s right IMPROVEMENTS on an album of the year). For one thing the production is better and doesn’t suffer from the jarring high frequencies that afflicted Copper Blue and all but destroyed Husker Du’s otherwise brilliant album Warehouse- Songs and Stories. Yeah thanks for that ya damn compact discs! Higher fidelity my….anyway, that partial digression notwithstanding, Silver Age is a good album. A very good album in fact.
The entire grunge movement, of which Sugar was unwillingly/unwittingly a member, was heavily influenced by hardcore punk and Husker Du were one of the frontrunners of the style. You could almost say that Mould influenced himself when the punk of Husker Du gave way to the grunge of Sugar. The same can be said of this album. There are definite elements from both incarnations of Mould’s work. The songs’ arrangements, vocal parts and to an extent guitar parts, are very reminiscent of Sugar. It’s a rock/pop work, not a hardcore punk effort and there are none of the guttural yowls and roars that Mould applied in Husker Du. But…there are many fairly savage guitar riffs that give the album angularity and a certain menacing attitude in parts, particularly in the great title cut.
Mould’s real talent, besides his song writing and guitar playing, is his ability to sing simple melodies over seemingly odd chord progressions and make them work. In this he is akin to the late Kurt Cobain. Although his voice is completely different to the former Nirvana front man he manages some surprisingly Nivana-esque riff/vocal combinations, particularly on the brilliant “Fugue State”.
The record pulses with consistent energetic guitar pop throughout. Most of the songs are quite stylistically similar, but that’s not a bad thing at all in this case. The only song that differs notably from the rest is the closing track “First Time Joy” which features clean guitar and some trumpet parts that make it sound like it belongs on Frank Black’s Teenager of the Year…and again that’s no bad thing! Bob’s voice isn’t brilliant. Never has been, but he makes the most of what he’s got and there’s certainly no reason to dislike it. He even applies many harmonized vocal parts which give the album depth and, dare I say it, a little sophistication!
The guitar work I alluded to earlier is really worth hearing. Odd Sonic Youth-like chords blend with hardcore power-riffing and some understated but quite impressive soloing, the latter almost reminiscent of Wilco or the more countrified moments from Dinosaur Jr. For an album that, on first listen, just sounds like a fuzzy hard-rock record, there are some mighty impressive sonic nuggets just waiting to be dug up with repeated listens. It’s a damn cliché, but this one’s a grower for sure!
There’s not a song on this album I don’t like, but standouts are the relatively aggressive “Silver Age” and “Briefest Moment”, the melodic soft/loud riffery of opener “Star Machine”, and the almost soaring vocalizations and chord progressions of “Round the City Square”, and “Keep Believing”. For me the best track (just) is “Fugue State” which combines all the albums qualities. Grungey soft/loud dynamics, hardcore intensity and simple yet effective melodic sensibilities combine to create an excellent track which is cleverly placed; smack-bang and zenith-like in the middle of the album.
While this album doesn’t possess any jaw-dropping moments of utter genius or even any great stylistic variation, it’s a work of irrefutable quality that is the equal of anything Mould has ever produced.