It’s been the year of Bob Mould for those smart enough to be interested in the iconic performer. First, Merge Records reissued the whole Sugar catalog, then came Mould’s autobiography See A Little Light: A Trail Of Rage And Melody, and now the arrival of his latest pure solo effort Silver Age. For anybody who has followed Mould’s career from Husker Du through Sugar and then into his solo work, Silver Age will feel like the next Sugar album. While still a three piece (though sporting a different line up) Silver Age ratchets up the guitars and builds rougher edges around those reliable Bob Mould pop sensibilities. Unlike 2009’s more low-key Life & Times, Silver Age is the punk icon screaming his way into the next phase of his career.
Music ideals and genre terms have shifted around Bob Mould and his music. His scene was called college rock in the 80s, then alternative rock in the 90s and now indie rock in the millennium. Most stars of those respective genres have either tried to continuously live out their punk youth rage while drifting into middle age, or they’ve found a comfortable niche pounding out easily digestible albums for their peer group. Mould has managed to side step that by consistently doing what he does and allowing it to grow organically. While his solo effort is worlds away from Husker Du, you still hear his touch stretching through both bands. Silver Age is Mould screaming at the genre labels, the tastemakers and his musical peers that he’s still around and still fucking pissed.
Sonically Mould’s anger is still translated through gorgeous pop guitars. The album opener “Star Machine” slow ebbs from a catchy robotic riff into a huge, open section before reverting back to the slower riff. It’s a testimony to Mould’s talent that he’s able to structure his songs the same from record to record without them becoming boring. He does things within the quiet-loud-quiet-loud form that The Pixies would give their eyeteeth to pull off. The title track follows and continues the high-energy guitars, which don’t let up through the entire record. There isn’t a breather on Silver Age, no quiet moment of acoustic reflection. Mould pushes through these ten songs as if he’s trying to ram them down your throat.
“The Descent” is an anthemic tour de force where Mould’s voice compliments the guitar lines as opposed to battling it. It’s almost a call and response song, Mould sings, the guitars respond and then both join to create a chorus crying out to be sung by hundreds of kids in a damp room that smells of beer and cigarettes. “Fugue State” plays on the downbeat, using the toms and the bass to hold the verse down, allowing the hugeness of the chorus to come through when the drums switch to hi-hat/snare.
One of the shining moments on Silver Age is “Angels Rearrange,” which sounds more like Mould’s solo work than the Sugar era. It’s a thoughtful song, one where the guitar line is catchy but held firmly in its place by Mould so that it never fully opens up for the chorus the way the other tunes do. “Keep Believing” is another show stopper, one that allows Mould to revisit a slice of Husker Du’s power without losing who Bob Mould is today. One of the things that has kept the rock pioneer firmly in our minds is that he’s always true to who he is. If we want to join him for the ride then great, but he’s never going to write an album to serve some specific crowd.
Silver Age isn’t all praise and wonderment, the album slips a bit with the long-winded “Steam Of Hercules”. The song isn’t bad per say, but it’s not great and it’s horribly placed. Right in the middle of the album, “Steam Of Hercules” saps all the energy. I listened to Silver Age several times skipping over that song and playing it as my last choice. For me it worked much better as an end cap than a mid-album jam. I also have to protest loudly about the mix. Part of what makes a Bob Mould record so amazing are his acerbic and magnificent lyrics. On Silver Age, for whatever reason, Mould has mixed his vocals so low that they fight for survival against the guitars. Even with headphones on it’s hard to make out what Mould is saying and that is a real strike against the album.
Nothing happening here is pushing any envelopes. Mould isn’t trying to reinvent his wheel nor is he trying to get hip with the kids by injecting all sorts of current bells and whistles into Silver Age. This is an album of guitar driven pop tunes written by an absolute master of the craft. The integrity and passion goes without saying as does the talent. Bob Mould may be 51 but he is not going gentle into that good night. Instead he’s going to scream and kick right into the next thirty years of his career, using Silver Age as his battle call.