Bob Mould: Beauty and Ruin – album review
Bob Mould – Beauty and Ruin (Merge)
Bob Mould released his latest album at the start of June, he describes it as a “a song cycle. A narrative. It’s nobody’s story but my own… I ran so fast from my past that I caught up with myself. This album is acknowledging that and dealing with every year getting a little tougher.” Louder Than War’s Adrian Bloxham struggles to be level headed and objective in his review, read what he thinks below.
Okay, you try writing a Bob Mould album review without mentioning Husker Du, Sugar or Pixies. I tried, it didn’t work. For those of you in the dark here, and presumably far younger than I am, Husker Du were one of the greatest US punk bands ever and the three of them blazed a white hot trail across SST and Warner brothers until they fell apart in 1987 in acrimony. Sugar were an alternative rock band in the early nineties that blasted away cobwebs and redefined the music that Bob Mould excels at making. The Pixies found Kim Gordon by posting an ad that asked for a bassist that liked both Husker Du and Peter, Paul and Mary, and if you want the video for ‘I don’t know you anymore’ you will see it referenced. There, totally failed in not mentioning them at all. Just for the record, I think that Bob Mould is a genius and I’m not alone, failed in keeping an open mind then too.
The reason it’s so hard not to mention Bob’s past is that everything he does is instantly recognisable as him. The way he drags out that noise from his guitar, there’s certain sounds that you know come from one person alone; like John Bonham’s drums or Jah Wobble’s bass, for me it’s the sound of Bob Mould’s guitar, a kind of rounded nasty growl with a dull edge. Then there’s his gruff, emotive and just perfect voice. Warm and feeling in an unconventional way, harsh and abrasive cutting through the guitars or emotive enough to tears run. The way it all fits together owes as much to his craftsmanship in all that has come before and what he has doing right now.
The cover of the album with a youthful Bob Mould looking down as he takes a drag on a cigarette and the Bob Mould of today looking over his shoulder straight into your eyes makes you realise that this guy knows that we look to his past too and is acknowledging it.
Okay. Right, the album, ‘Beauty and Ruin’, I’ll try and be objective honestly, I’ll try. It’s a short record, it lasts for just over thirty six minutes but that’s all it needs. It sounds like a Bob Mould record, in fact I’d go so far as to say as it sounds like the Bob Mould record you always wanted him to record. The songs go between the Husker Du roar of ‘Kid with the Crooked Face’, the Sugar punk pop rush of ‘Fire in the City’ and the plaintive, emotional Bob Mould of today on ‘Low Season’. Right smack bang in the middle of all that is the glorious single ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’ which when heard alone is a pure punch to the side of the head to all of the pretenders that owe Mr Mould a huge debt and a reclaiming of the ground that is and always will be his. The music twists and turns, the sound moves backwards and forwards but it is always Bob Mould and as a clarification of his past, a shout for right here and now and the way forward to the future it’s pretty much perfect.
My favourite moment is the end of ‘The War’ as the hardness gives way to a gentle finish with Bob singing quietly ‘Don’t give up and don’t give in’. He didn’t, and it sounds like he has finally accepted that his past is a thing to carry with pride. Which of course can only be a good thing when you listen to where he is on this album. Buy Beauty and Ruin, right now.
All words by Adrian Bloxham. More work by Adrian on Louder Than War can be found here.