It’s been a banner year for Bob Mould the solo artist. A spot on Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light exhumed him from the yellowed basement of critics’ circles. He published his memoir See A Little Light, and the reissues of his albums with Sugar – Mould’s garage-heaven equivalent to Paul McCartney’s Wings – warrant another glance from indie rock fans who were in preschool when Copper Blue came out (guilty, although old school fans might similarly wince at Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories turning 25 this year).
Done looking back? So is Mould. On Silver Age, that trademark bitterness he spat at the vain ex-lover in Foos’ “Dear Rosemary” has all but disappeared (the reverbed staccato chords to Silver Age’s opening blast “Star Machine” are the most brooding moment here). What follows sounds like much-needed relief: his best album in a decade, 2008’s stormy District Line, was an emotional anvil, and the morose Life and Times lagged a bit much for “victory lap” status. Mould now sings about what he’s going to do right, not what someone did wrong to him. Whether dude went through some shit around 2006 or just felt like writing in sullen character for a while, it’s a new day rising.
Mould is a rarity in the legion of ’80s American indie survivors. He’s more vital than Henry Rollins or Ian McKaye, more interesting than Mission of Burma and more popular than R.E.M. (“survivors” being a relative term in that last case). Silver Age brims with the hard-won optimism shared by R.E.M.’s Collapse Into Now, yet Mould is unaffected by that weird middle-age giddiness afflicting some (see Young Fresh Fellows’ new one).
If the album’s title is a wry nod to having entered his greying years, songs like “First Time Joy” show he’s looking at age with earned wisdom instead of worry (and hey, at least he didn’t call the thing Hairline Rising). At 51, he can run circles around any best-new-thing band with enough leftover energy to chop down a tree and build a house. “Briefest Moment” keeps the listener on his toes by continually introducing chordal left turns like a punk rock getaway driver with an anxiety problem, somehow never sounds scattershot. Then it’s over in a flash, leaving behind a slow-mo trail of dust like Han Solo having zoomed into hyperspace.
Tellingly, the electro-burbles Mould embraced on 2002’s Modulate are nowhere to be found on Silver Age. In their place are his first love: riffs on riffs on riffs, gate-crashing on horseback in perfectly square chunks (the four-chord refrain remains his preferred hook). Mould’s a bear with bite, his songwriting as tight and utilitarian as his now-trademark muscle shirt.
There’s not a bad song here, but if there’s any complaint about Silver Age, it stems from the feeling that Mould may be retracing his steps (you can almost hear him ask himself the same question). At only 10 songs, any melodic repetition is minimized, but it’s noticeable nevertheless. First single “The Descent” cops the licks from his own “Dog on Fire” (better known as The Daily Show’s theme song), and “Star Machine” has a terse “she said” chorus, recalling that of Sugar’s “A Good Idea.” The cutting lyricism of recent works has also been buffed out. There are no uncomfortably real lines like “you parked the car outside the Holiday Inn” or “the taste of last night’s sex in my mouth” here. Instead we get general platitudes, pronouncements, and the occasional creamed corn like “Angels falling from the sky / Singing ‘Don’t be scared of change’ / Cause it may be time to rearrange.”
Still, it’s hard to hate a song like “Keep Believing,” where a whine of feedback announces 4 minutes and 25 seconds of power-pop bliss that finds Mould singing “You can’t get this feeling anywhere, but here / Right here, right now.” Coming from a guy who released a memoir last year, that statement speaks volumes that could drown out any amp’s loudest noise.
With that lyric, maybe Silver Age isn’t about life’s ticking clock after all. A better application might be to Mould’s career as an underground music stalwart: the gold always gets the glory, but silver can shine just as bright.
Bob Mould – Silver Age tracklist:
- “Star Machine”
- “Silver Age”
- “The Descent”
- “Briefest Moment”
- “Steam of Hercules”
- “Fugue State”
- “Round the City Square”
- “Angels Rearrange”
- “Keep Believing”
- “First Time Joy”