April 26, 2018

"Beauty & Ruin" Runs the Gamut


Bob Mould embraces old sound with new revelations.

“Today I actually was sort of in the moment and not in my history, and I wasn’t in my future and anybody who knows me knows that I’m always stuck on either side of the present, which is a weird place to live. But today I’m here in the present.” —Bob Mould, from "See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould" (2013)


"Beauty & Ruin" Runs the Gamut

Bob Mould on his latest album, “Beauty & Ruin” from Merge Records.

At 53, middle age is serving Bob Mould well. Despite the guitar hooks and song structure, “happy” has never defined the alt. rock icon. Though Mould doesn’t necessarily break character with Beauty & Ruin, a newfound sense of peace and clarity permeates the record.

Sonically, “Beauty & Ruin” blends the lighter part of Husker Du with the heavier parts of Sugar. While that logic is solid considering those were Mould’s previous bands, that wasn’t necessarily the case with his early releases and his foray into electronica that went well into the aughts. 2008’s District Line began the new Bob renaissance of returning to hooky guitar pop continuing straight through 2012’s Silver Age. Beauty is different from its predecessors not only of its crystallization in sound, but thematically Bob Mould embraces Bob Mould, instead of hiding behind characters or providing opaque lyrics.

Having bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster as more than capable sideman also helps. The present trio is Mould’s consistent “band” since Husker Du.

This is a Mould solo project but there’s room for all to have a moment or two. There’s nothing innovative added to the proceedings but you hear musicians really embracing their craft, which is something you don’t hear a lot of today. With Mould’s recent acceptance of and adding Sugar and Husker Du songs back into his repertoire, we hear a grab bag of his work throughout the album.

“Little Glass Pill” sounds like a B-side from Sugar’s Copper Blue while the album’s opener, “Low Season,” is some of his hardest work yet. “Forgiveness” and “Beauty” carry the acoustic airiness of Workbook, as “I Don’t Know You Anymore” recalls Husker Du in their Warehouse and Candy Apple Grey. “Tomorrow Morning” and the album’s best track, “The War,” show Mould in the here and now with telling lyrics. Had another artist gone back to the well, some may say it was due to lack of inspiration; Mould, finally incorporating everything, is refreshing for someone who is always trying new things.

There is hope for him yet. Now if we can only get him to smile.