Sugar -- File Under: Easy Listening

(Ryko)

Written For Kade Magazine September 28, 1994


Bob Mould is god. Somebody's bound to say it, and it might as well be me. At the very least, he's one of my few rock and roll heroes who I can always count on. I mean, there are bands (R.E.M. & U2) who've provided more of my life's soundtrack and songwriters (Paul Westerberg & Kurt Cobain) whose songs have hit me more viscerally. But for the past decade--since at least Husker Du's Metal Circus, and maybe before-- no one has been as consistently powerful and prolific. Or made a cooler noise on his guitar.

What a noise it is, too: all full of distortion and overtones and skyrockets piled atop enough sustain to outlast the Energizer Bunny. Mould's psychedelic shred guitar in tandem with his trademark multi-tracked vocal overdubs is one of most recognizable signature sounds in all of rock and roll. A great sound. A sound to die for--one that he's mined and honed to ragged perfection. For an invaluable primer, check out the recently released Husker Du live album, The Living End, which in its unrelentless barrage of song-after-song-after-song, stands as a testament to that sound, without the studio vocal trickery and with the extra added benefit of Grant Hart's songs and kick-ass kick drum. Truth be known, gang, every Husker Du record from Zen Arcade on should be in your collection.

When Husker Du split up, so did Mould's music for a time. Not to mention his fan base. His two solo albums, 1989's Workbook and 1990's Black Sheets of Rain, represent the yin and yang of Mould's muse. The former is mostly folk-rock, the latter, heavy metal by any other name. Most of his fans love one but not the other, and almost never both. I preferred Black Sheets of Rain but missed the lighter touch which underscored even the darkest Husker Du.

When he recombined for Sugar's 1992 debut Copper Blue, he got many of his old fans back, and thanks to the advent of "alternative," he gained new ones. And rightly so, since Copper Blue was an amazing return to form. I remember sitting up and grinning when I first heard it, knowing that he was all the way back. Last year's Beaster--though a tad darker (for every New Day Rising there's always been a Candy Apple Grey), kept up the energy level, if not the overt pop hooks.

Which are back with a vengence for File Under: Easy Listening. Within in a few seconds of the opening track "Gift," he punches in a guitar lead which brings the entire song into focus. Same for "Your Favorite Thing." And so it goes. After a couple of spins its nearly impossible to resist the melodies underneath "Gee Angel" or "What You Want it To Be." Of course the band is right there--drummer Malcolm Travis nails his rat-a-tat-tat rolls all over the place, and in an actual sop to band fairness, bassist David Barbe weighs in with "Company Book."

Which is good and all, and while Sugar is certainly a group, its much closer to the Bob Mould Experience than, say, Cream or Rush or even Husker Du. And when Bob wraps FU:EL up with the one hugh sigh of "Explode and Make Up,"-- all searing leads atop a bed of love- making acoustic and electric guitars and his vocals echoing away in the fade out-- I'm ready to toss the entire concept of democracy out the window. Sometimes dictators give us more fun. I love this sound, and to my ears--nothing sounds better on the radio. When I hear it there, that is.

I never saw Husker Du, because, of all my favorite bands, they were not only the least popular (which made organizing road trips more difficult), I always thought they were the most stable. I knew I'd eventually get to see 'em--that they'd last forever. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and certainly not a mistake I'll be repeating when Sugar hits the West Coast in late Autumn. On the other hand, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't Bob Mould who just might be immortal. It looks as if he is poised to be tossing us amazing records like File Under: Easy Listening from now until the end of time. Good for him, better for us. Rock on, Bob: some of us are always going to need you in our lives.

--Jim Connelly

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This document last modified 05 July, 1995.
I was listening to American Music Club -- San Francisco.