It happened. I can’t believe it did, but it did.
Bob Mould has delivered an album that surpasses any of his post-Husker Du work, even--and I can’t believe I am going to say this--Copper Blue. I know. You never stand on Superman’s cape, right? I mean, Copper Blue literally got me through college and has withstood the test of time for 20 years now, but hear me out here.
Released in early June, Beauty & Ruin is Bob’s most prolific, honest, telling, counseling, revealing and rocking album to date. It is a time for reflection for Mould, as he walks us through the beauty and ruin of life, love, loss, and his continued fight with personal demons.
The sometimes haunting and others tongue-in-cheek lyrics are all there, which we will go into in a second, but what makes this album important, and which I believe truly drives the lyrics, is how much it is as if Mould is returning to an old home or garage and found a collection of his past work in a box labeled "BOB'S STUFF -- 1980-2013."
Beauty & Ruin is a menagerie of Mould’s growth and maturation in his music--and himself--and you can find elements in it from every stage of his work.
His reflections in Beauty are made evident by the album cover, which shows a side-by-side of a younger Mould, hair-filled head looking down, tugging on a cigarette, next to a hazy semi-transparent image of Mould today, staring us in the eye, showing that he is accepting of his current self and is ready for to tell us something important.
It’s a bridge between past and present. A challenge to himself and the listener to see beyond the physical and look into the sound and the emotions of young and old Mould, and everything in between.
From the in-your-face Husker Du grunge slashings in "Kid With a Crooked Face," to the FM-single-ready speed-pop you grew to love with Sugar in “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” and even the techno transitions between songs that hold the thumbprints of Modulate, it’s all there.
Unlike past work, though, this album actually plays out like a full album, with no breaks between songs as Mould opens his heart and his soul for the listener, sharing what it is like to be a person, like any of us, with a past upon which we reflect, the doubts we so easily hold, the humor we employ to get through the days, and, in the end, that each of us, no matter the prism in which we view our lives and appearance, is beautiful.
A quick breakdown of a few of the album's songs:
“Low Season” -- The album’s opener leads in with a Modulate-esque techno transitional into a wall of soft electric guitar and Mould’s voice, gently leading us into the album. Fans of the hubcap album will like this one.
“I Don’t Know You Anymore” -- This is the song you will hear most from Beauty, this Copper Blue-infused jangly pop jam tricks the listener with its upbeat melodies. It’s not a happy song at all. It’s about the betrayal and alienation we feel when someone we thought we knew changes for the worst.
“Nemeses are Laughing” -- Possibly one of the most interesting songs on the album is the first sign that Bob is going to throw in some little tricks. It opens with Mould giving us a “do-do-do” dooh-wap, which transitions quickly into a guitar explosion. It’s a song of reflection, as Bob shares with us “Retracing footsteps of my younger days. Hold on, rearview mirror lies in the haze.”
There’s the self-deprecating approach to aging as a rocker in “Hey Mr. Grey,” a tale of a grumpy fella who laments on how “life used to be so hard,” and telling those young rockers to “get off my yard.” Bob also brings another grumpy rocker into the song, throwing Grandpaboy Paul Westerberg a bone with the line “kids don’t follow,” from The Replacements' Stink. A friendly poke at a long-time friend.
There’s the poignant “The War,” which has the earmarks of a reflection on Bob’s relationship with his father, who passed away before he began work on the album. The words “You were the one who taught me most / I carry your remains / Your emblem and your name / Nothing left will ever be the same” leave that ringing in your ear of the loss that we feel from a parent. The love. The fighting. The tension. The memories. Dealing with that sudden extinguishing is a daunting task.
For anyone who has battled through depression, anxiety, or loss of self worth, Bob puts an arm around your shoulder with “Let the Beauty Be,” another tricky song on the album. It leads with a typical Bob Mould campfire acoustic guitar, but then the tight drumming of Jon Wurster drive the beat into more of an upbeat pop song.
The transition from somber to cheeriness helps to communicate the message from Bob about dancing on the edge and getting through the hard days, such as in “Have you ever really wanted to die? / Can you carry all the weight of your life? / Time after time, your brain exploding /Don’t worry, you’ll be alright / We’ll be waiting on the other side / It won’t seem so bad, you’ll shake it off.”
Then there is, to me, the best song on the album, and possibly the best of Bob’s solo career, in “Fire in the City”. A song about the anxiety and confusion that plagues Bob’s mind as he tosses and turns in his bed, then runs for the door, to try to escape life, only to look to the constellations in the sky and see there is a future and the chance for something new, closing with the line “I don’t want to go.”
Beyond the lyrics, the song is possibly the most energetic and vocally charged of Bob’s career, with curtain upon curtain of firey guitar powering Bob’s voice through his sonnet about facing and living with the uncertainty of life.
In all, Beauty & Ruin is a demonstration of what we have seen from Bob over the past half decade or so, most comfortable with himself and his expressions on life and loss than possibly ever, with credit to that going to the chemistry he has with bandmates Jason Narducy and John Wurster. It’s an album that will stick with you, and as you listen to it, will not only grow on you but stick with you, leaving you wanting more from possibly the most underrated man in rock.
You can get more on June 23, when Bob Mould takes the stage for a free @93XRT show at the Pritzker Pavilion. Local rockers Split Single, led by Bob Mould bandmate Jason Narducy open. Show starts at 6:00 PM.
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