Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock

Even if you’ve never heard of Bob Mould or his bands Husker Dü and Sugar you’ve no doubt heard his music.  The opening theme song for the Daily Show, “Dog on Fire”, was originally written for Bob Mould’s self-titled third solo album. Despite not making the cut, the song’s various permutations live on.  Played during the show’s opening title and closing credits is a version performed by nerd rockers They Might Be Giants. The song’s catchy hook, albeit much slower in its original form, is indicative of Mould’s pop infused punk rock compositions ranging from his days with 80’s punk pioneers Husker Dü to fronting 90’s power trio Sugar, which turned out to be Mould’s most commercially successful venture.
Still it’s been Mould’s solo career that’s found his output to be the most diverse and prolific. Ranging from his 1989 debut solo album Workbook to 2014’s Beauty & Ruin which topped out at #34 on the Billboard Top 200 that year. Things really began to take shape for Mould in 2012 when he enlisted veteran bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and signed on with Merge Records to release
Silver Age.  

Mould’s complicated musical and personal history have been a deep dark well of pain and anguish from which to draw from in his songwriting.  While his songs and albums avoid being regarded as merely cathartic output, they do often recall real personal traumas of Mould’s. For example, 2014’s Beauty & Ruin was written in response to the loss of his father and 2016’s Patch the Sky is often cited as being about Mould’s mother’s declining health and subsequent death following the album’s release.  However, like in nature, after the darkening rain clouds recede we’re often left with a cleansing sunshine that finds a way to lift even the darkest of spirits.  Such is the case with 2019’s Sunshine Rock that finds 58 year-old Bob on a new path toward enlightenment.

While Sunshine Rock is by all means a departure lyrically for Mould, there remain remnants of grief and sadness that have been the hallmark of Mould’s past few albums.  Only this time, Mould appears at ease with his history and honors the past with love and optimism, not to mention a pop sensibility. Mould wastes no time ripping into a foot stomping head bobbing instant pop punk masterpiece with the title track “Sunshine Rock”.  

They don’t love you like I love you
I won’t leave you in the dark
Look above you, I will love you
In the sunshine on the rock 

Mould plows heavily forward through furiously chorded tracks “What Do You Want Me To Do” which has Mould assertively confronting a past relationship and right on through “Sunny Love Song” that has him rejoicing “My troubles, they are ending. My sorrows, they are few. If I write a sunny love song every day. I can shine so bright on you, so true.”  No time to stop and smell the “Thirty Dozen Roses” for Mould as he continues to whale away on his signature Fender strat with Narducy and Wurster pounding their parts in support of the marching and more melancholy Mould. While his tone is less upbeat on this track than previous ones, Mould’s goal remains absolution rather than despair or worse yet, pity.  This theme of agency resounds over and throughout the album. At last, track five on the album has Mould slowing down to reflect and beg the question of “What do we cherish in the final years?” This act of contemplation continues with “Irrational Poison”, closing out Side A and allowing a breath before being assaulted musically and lyrically by the best B-Side lead I’ve heard in some time. “I Fought” is unquestionably the most bone jarring cut on the album and finds Mould reaching back for a little extra in his hoarse guttural vocals.  Clocking in at just over 2 and a half minutes, Mould pays painful tribute to friend and Husker Dü bandmate, Grant Hart, who passed away in the fall of 2017. While Sunshine Rock may not always be filled with “happy little clouds” and rainbows, the reality that creeps into the narrative is less remorseful and more celebratory than in past albums.  I will admit that “Camp Sunshine” is unquestionably the outlier on this album in it’s hard to swallow nostalgia. No doubt a fond memory of Mould’s the structure and lyrics are heavy handed at best and as such the parable of sorts has me reaching for the skip button/tone arm to advance to the following track “Send Me A Postcard”, a fun 2+ minute Ramones-esque romp.  Employing an age old literary narrative device, Mould closes out the album with “Western Sunset”, a fitting Helio Seismological nod to the albums title.

It’s clear, Bob is happy again and this is something we should all celebrate.  It’s true, so much great art comes from pain, poor mental health, and socio-political-economic inequity but should we celebrate those as markers of creativity?  Sunshine Rock points to the polar opposite position, demarcating happiness as a source of artistry and inventiveness. Sunshine is warm while rock is hard and with it we find the perfect yet delicate balance between Sugar and Husker Dü.  Get outside and sunshine rock!

Rating: 8.2

Photos © Greg Scranton
Patch The Sky Tour 2016
Pearl Street Ballroom
Northampton, MA

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