I was a latecomer to Bob Mould. Husker Du were done and dusted and he’d released two semi-successful solo albums before Sugar zoomed onto my musical radar screen via a cassette covermount with, I believe, Sounds (though it could have been Melody Maker). Those papers have gone the same way as cassettes, and Sugar are a distant memory now, though Mould continues to include much of its repertoire in his solo sets, perhaps as a reminder to himself of the standard he need to aim for. Both the Du and his solo albums have yielded up rich, if sporadic pickings but Sugar (and debut long-player, Copper Blue in particular) represented something of a creative high water-mark.
The track that piqued my interest was album opener ‘The Act We Act’ (below), an astonishing statement of intent. I wasn’t familiar with the Du or his solo stuff then, but if I had been I’d have noticed how he’d really learned to write a hook since then. From the screamy punk of the early Du to the often funeareal dirge-like qualities of his first two solo efforts, Mould had dipped his toe into pop waters but the economy of his writing here is astounding. Husker Du have often been name-checked as influential by a host of Emo and Indie bands but on Copper Blue he out-writes any of them. If you’re familiar with anything from that album it’s probably second single, the catchy Indie-ballad ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’, and as good as that is most of the rest of the album is even better. If I’m asked to name perfect albums where every track is a standout then this is always in my top 10, along with Elizium (see ‘Fresh from the vault 1). I’ll even let Mould off for blatantly ripping off Pixies ‘Debaser’ and calling it ‘A Good Idea’. I imagine Black Francis was flattered.
Mould has always been more or less autobiographical in his lyric writing and so it always sounds as though he’s appealing directly to the listener, which can a discomfiting experience since most of the words appear to be directed at the other half of a rocky relationship. The aforementioned ‘…Change Your Mind’ is a bon-adieu to a departing beau, which manages to combine wistfulness with a stiff upper lip: in spite of the subject matter it’s upbeat and uplifting. ‘Changes’ and ‘Helpless’ are both rockier and more desperate sounding affairs; missives sent from the eye of stormy territory. ‘The Act We Act’ comes from much the same place lyrically, albeit paired with a slower, growlier delivery. On the hard-rocking yet stupidly-catchy ‘Fortune Teller he berates a lover for his lack of commitment and just for levity, ‘Slick’ narrates a drunken car crash (after an argument with a lover, of course).
But the real centrepieces of this album are the epic-sounding tracks five and six. It’s tempting to read the opening lines standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam, from ‘Hoover Dam’ as referencing suicide but I have an inkling the words are meant figuratively, about being at a crossroads in life . With its backward-tracked drum intro, lush keyboards and two guitar and piano breaks it’s probably the most arty, ‘musical’ thing Mould has committed to record. Mid pace and subject matter aside, it has a soaring, redemptive feel and as its closing guitar solo fades into some more backwards-tracked percussion and vocals it does nothing whatsoever to prepare the listener for the next track, ‘The Slim’. This is another epic number with lyrics mourning the death of a partner from A.I.D.S. and whilst it’s the tear-jerker that that might suggest it eschews wallowing in grief and manages to remain a catchy and compelling piece of songcraft. The dirge-y style is probably the closest thing to Mould’s previous (and far less listenable) effort, ‘Black Sheets Of Rain’ which is every bit as cheerful as the title suggests.
It’s noteworthy that this album came out mere months after Nirvana – who credited Husker Du as a large influence – released Nevermind and tempting to speculate that had the release dates been reversed we’d now be celebrating 20 years of Copper Blue. It’s at least as good a slab of hook-laden, kick-ass indie rock and like the latter has stood the test of time remarkably well. Check these out: