It’s truly difficult for me to review a Bob Mould record. It’s like reviewing your guitar teacher’s music. I don’t know Bob and he never gave me a lesson, but I taught myself how to play guitar listening to Husker Du, Sugar, and Black Sheets Of Rain. His music (and Grant Hart’s ) mean everything to me. I even had an guitar amp setup very much like his and Flying V guitars (He played an Ibanez copy of a Gibson V throughout the Husker Du days, I owned a couple of different Gibson Flying V’s. In Bob’s solo career and with Sugar, he played a 1987 Fender Stratocaster Standard with lace sensor pickups. I stopped following him on that guitar path).
I was completely blown away by Husker Du on the New Day Rising tour, scarred for life (in a good way) after seeing the Black Sheets Of Rain tour, and had my head spun, The Exorcist - style, after seeing Sugar on the F.U.E.L. tour. Bob Mould always, always had THE band.
So, to completely digress, and without being too pedantic (I hope), there is a concept in teaching called ‘scaffolding,’ basically meaning that teachers use students’ existing knowledge and understanding to help them grasp new concepts. I bring this up in reference to the many Sunshine Rock reviews I’ve read. Reviewers never fail to mention how much some of this material reminds them of Husker Du and Sugar, Bob Mould’s previous bands. It’s a simple way to explain his music. I also think it’s wrong. Mould works with a narrow paintbox, the guitar-bass-drums power trio, but this excellent record is not Husker Du, and it’s not Sugar. It’s Bob Mould as he is now. And Bob Mould has made a great record.
What I love about Mould is how uncompromising and musically restless he is. There really is no repeating himself on this record, which is supposedly his ‘upbeat’ record after a trilogy of records referencing the loss of his parents. Yes, this is an upbeat record (for the notoriously downbeat Bob) , but it has its reflective, angry, and bittersweet songs. It wouldn’t be Bob Mould otherwise.
The record opens with ‘Sunshine Rock’ - genuinely upbeat, with lots of vocal pads, some distant keys. It’s classic Mould pop. Strings are a great touch. He never made being happy sound so sad. On ‘What Do You Want Me To Do’ we get a more typical Mould rager, with a coiled up melodic riff, and lots of “ooh’s” in the background. ‘Sunny Love Song’ features bashing drums from the amazing Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats). This one references Mould’s travels from California to Berlin, where he has been living and where the record was written. This one has a classic bridge, and the lyric:
“We should write a sunny rock song every day”
‘Thirty Dozen Roses’ is fast and loud and approaching (yes, I said it) Husker Du intensity. ‘The Final Years’ is lyrically related to Husker Du’s ‘These Important Years.’ Strings come in towards the end and it’s a beautiful song, wonderfully produced. ‘Irrational Poison’ sounds like a harder edged Workbook - era tune, with super -pop call and response vocals and pretty backing vocals. More strings on this are a pleasant surprise.
‘I Fought’ is a four to the floor, three chord screamer, not a ‘Sunny Pop Song’ by any means. Just three chords and a sack of hell. Mid tempo with all the guitars piled on, ‘Sin King’ is reminiscent of a Black Sheets Of Rain track.
On ‘Lost Faith’ - Bob says it’s a New Order rip (see the link below), and I can hear Bernard Sumner singing this. Jason Narducy provides the Peter Hook-ish bass, and the keys are prominent. Speaking of Narducy, have you checked out the records he made with the band Verbow? Go check them out. Now. I’ll wait….Meanwhile , Bob sings:
“I’ve lost faith in everything, everything, everything.”
That’s not very sunshine rock. The accordion is a great touch.
The lyric on ‘Camp Sunshine’:
“The days I get to spend, making music with my friends, always most important to me.
There's always songs galore, I’m always writing more, I think about the kids we used to see.
Some get sick and pass away, others find a different place to play. Believe me there’s nowhere I’d rather stay.”
It’s just clean guitar and voice , a stunning song with Bob taking stock of his life. No distortion needed.
‘Send Me A Postcard’ is a wacky cover of the 60’s Shocking Blue (known best for the hit 'Venus') tune. The band sounds like they are having a blast kicking through this. Wurster killing it again on the drums. ‘Western Sunset’ ends the record in the most pop way you’ll hear from Bob since ... Sugar (I said it again!) Awesome descending guitar riff and call/response vocal. Strings again, used magnificently.
Bob Mould is his own man. He does what he wants and continues to rock like no one’s business. Screw the ‘Elder Statesman’ label. His band will blow all comers off the stage: anywhere, anytime.
Check out this Sterogum article with Bob (especially the Foo Fighters part!):