Bob Mould – District Line

17Mar08

Halfway into the latest try by the former marvel of post-hardcore guitar and punk-pop song, sometime pro-wrestling plotter and current Daily Show theme composer, I brightened with the thought that he might be on some kind of comeback. As it fell apart in the second half, into by now all-too-familiar meandering navel-gazing, I recalled that 2005’s instantly forgotten Body of Song  also sounded like an upturn for a few tracks. A week or two later, the unbelievably well-named “Old Highs, New Lows” came in up in shuffle and until I couldn’t resist to look at the screen, I wondered what voice-modulated twerpy son of Dave Matthews had snuck his way onto my ipod. 

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2 Responses to “Bob Mould – District Line”

  1. 1 Kenny

    Many of my favorite artists have a time frame during which they were vital, and outside that timeframe I have lost any interest in following their work. A couple of extreme cases: Graham Parker, who made the album that was my favorite in the world for much of my growing up in 1979, and who to this moment I rank as an all-time favorite on the basis of a mere four years concentrated effort (1976-79), but who becomes inconsistent in the early 1980s and positively annoying thereafter. John Fogerty, the best pure songwriter in existence when he had something he wanted to write about for five years (1969-73), and then absolutely nothing. Elvis Costello remained vital for a whole decade, releasing two of his best albums in 1986, nine years after the debut, and then professionalizing into irrelevance. Dylan and Springsteen are exceptions — even before Magic Springsteen did enough to suggest it was worth keeping one’s eyes open when a new album came out. How many other exceptions are there? Perhaps only the truly inexhaustible Jon Langford (far more inexhaustible then Dylan or Springsteen) provides an important exception, and perhaps this is because his work has been self-consciously amateur all along. He has never really made a living a music — he’s a graphics professional.

    Bob Mould has a special place in a conversation like this for doing it twice, leading two bands that mattered, and while its a shame that Sugar only lasted two real albums, both of those albums are so excellent to give him pride of place in my life: of all my favorite musicians, he’s the one I actually grew up with, the one close enough in age and personal sensibility for me to identify with directly. (Note: of course he’s half a decade older; by definition the recording musicians you grow up with are always half a decade older then yourself.) I would love nothing more to discover a fine new album by him.

    But I don’t expect it, and not because I think there’s something wrong with him. Pop music, by it’s nature, is time bound and subcultural, and it is bound up with the form itself that people don’t remain relevant. Sometimes brilliant artists discover new ways of being relevant, and Springsteen recently has, but that takes not only talent but also will and luck.

    I was a decent spoken word poet. Not to compare myself to people who are better artists, but I don’t expect a good new album from Bob Mould any more then I expect myself on the stage of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe this year, and for the same reasons. I’ve moved on, slam poetry has moved on, it would take some special and strange circumstance for me to say anything inspiring in that context.

    All praise to musicians who remain vital: Sonny Rollins’ career over page 50 is awe-inspiring. Chuck Cleaver is better now then he’s ever been, though he’s also cheating: his new co-bandleader/partner/other is 20 years younger then him, and that has to help, since his subject matter has not changed. Todd Snider and Amy Rigby are also brilliant middle aged people in part because their subject matter is, among other things, age. For the rest, I expect Stevie Wonder to write one or two good songs a decade until he dies.

    And now that it’s clear that Carrie Brownstein really would rather be a journalist-intellectual then a musician without her perfect other to reflect off of, I’m starting to wonder whether Corin Tucker will ever make music again. Maybe Bob Mould would be better off joining the PTA.

  2. 2 Kenny

    Another thought occurs to be about Mould in particular — what it means to say his moment of having something to say has passed.

    The four solo albums of Mould’s I’ve heard — none of which are entirely devoid of good songs, and one of which (The Last Dog And Pony Show) I actually like a fair amount — are acts of punditry. In Husker Du, the emotion that carries Mould is despair; in Sugar, it’s survival and growth. In both cases, the intersection between what Mould is feeling at the particular moment of his life and the discipline of playing in a band cause him to focus his songwriting in particular directions. His solo work is produced from a different perspective, sort of I am an observer of the world, or my part of the world, and I have something to say. So he mouths off about this and that, not from a particular emotional perspective but from a particular chatty personality. And as a pundit he’s so-so. Not stupid, not devoid of ideas, perhaps worth a little of your time. But also nothing worth more sustained thought then today’s editorial page, which you will have forgotten tomorrow.


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