Husker Du Albums
I can honestly not think of a band I enjoy more than Husker Du. No band is perfect, but when these guys were on fire they really impressed. A band that truly evolved, moved against any trend at all, and had two great songwriters that however different, always sounded great together. They really have no peers and no obvious influences, so you have to look close to see the influence of a little bit of Byrds here and a tad of Ramones there. Even if they had a somewhat trendy or generic sound towards the beginning of their career, starting with the Metal Circus EP and the double concept album Zen Arcade the band moved in a direction that is simply unclassifiable with words. In the span of four years, they truly became “the best band on the planet”, and could do no wrong. Grant Hart was the pop song anchor and craftsman, effortlessly drawing from the plethora of great 1960’s and 1970’s artists before him and his songs were always melodic and catchy, though the subject matter could drift toward the macabre. Bob Mould, who became one of the most important songwriters/guitarists of all time after this band broke up, created a unique style of songwriting that is his alone, as he told stories of aliened youth and epic tales of a possible redemption later in life. Mould and Hart formed a songwriting team that is unparalleled in rock music, and underneath their often course vocals lies it’s ever beating heart.
Bob Mould – Vocals, Guitar
Grant Hart – Vocals, Drums
Greg Norton – Bass
The Byrds, The Ramones, The Soft Boys, The Clash, The Who, Mission of Burma
Warehouse: Songs and Stories and Zen Arcade
1982 – (2 / 5) – Land Speed Record
1983 – (3 / 5) – Everything Falls Apart
1984 – (5 / 5)+ – Zen Arcade
1985 – (4.5 / 5) – New Day Rising
1985 – (5 / 5) – Flip Your Wig
1986 – (4.5 / 5) – Candy Apple Grey
1987 – (5 / 5)+ – Warehouse Songs and Stories
Land Speed Record – (2 / 5)
Nothing distinguishes Husker Du from the punk hardcore crowd on their debut, beside the fact that Bob Mould can obviously play guitar very well. There some definite great songs (“All Tensed Up”, “Tired of Doing Things”) and some that manage to stand out from the murky live production (“Guns At My School”, “Data Control”), but without considerable effort it is very hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. A short, indistinguishable album, only for long term fans of the band. Please do not start with this album and think it is in any way definitive of Husker Du.
Greatest Songs: All Tensed Up, Tired of Doing Things
Everything Falls Apart – (3 / 5)
A little more distinctive than their debut, as at least one can hear melodies and the songs have a bit of structure to them. Mission of Burma’s influence is present on several songs (“Blah Blah Blah”, “Afraid of Being Wrong”, “Gravity”) and the opener “From the Gut” definitely influenced the Big Black sound of Steve Albini with its screeching guitar tones. A 1960’s psych pop vibe is first felt on a cover of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”, that in retrospect of the band’s career sounds normal but surely baffled some people back in 1983. The biggest advances in sound for the band are on the second half of the record, the punchy title track “Everything Will Fall Apart”, the hand clapping and dissonant “Target”, and the closer “Gravity” has an epic guitar jam at the end, which are all actual great songs. They have more in common with the rising Paisley Underground scene of Los Angeles of the early 1980’s at this point, with a touch of The Soft Boys thrown in as well. Grant Hart also first distinguishes himself as a songwriter here with “Wheels”, which has a more traditional tone than Mould’s blistering punk tunes. In all, the longer songs tend to be the better songs on Everything Falls Apart, and perhaps the band needs to rethink even including the songs that are shorter than one minute as they tend to distract rather than to add to the whole.
Greatest Songs: Gravity, Everything Falls Apart, Target, Afraid of Being Wrong
Zen Arcade – (5 / 5)+
Zen Arcade was the turning point for Husker DU in many ways. It was the band’s first studio record over 30 minutes, and wayyyyy over 30 minutes at that, a whopping 69, which made it a true double album (from a hardcore punk band??). It also was the band’s first studio album for SST record’s, which brought them to a wider audience. Most importantly, it made no qualms in terms of ambition in the broad range of styles (folk, ultra-distorted guitars, metallic grinding, punk raging, melodic pop) and assimilated them into concise, hard hitting songs that were both emotionally and sonically important. This album is very ambitious, as the textures it uses in songs like “Hare Krishna” and “Masochism World” that no one has ever used before or ever since. Bob Mould and Grant Hart’s songwriting is also equal in style and quantity, never before have they sounded like they are trying to write the same album before! These two songwriters were very different, but they somehow blended together though they approached punk and psych rock influences completely differently.
Bob Mould songs are easily the best he has written so far: “Something I Learned Today” is one of the all-time great album openers, “Whatever” and “Chartered Trips” are sped up folk ballads that reach into one’s soul and find emotions you didn’t even know you had; “Beyond the Threshold”, “Indecision Time”, and “I’ll Never Forget You” are the best hardcore rock songs he has written yet, and blow away any legacy the band had before and replace it with gold. Each little touch on these songs are what make it special, like when the vocal echoes kick in on the second verse of “Chartered Trips” or when Hart joins Mould in singing the chorus to “Something I Learned Today”. “Broken Home, Broken Heart” and “Newest Industry” build upon the legacy of bands like The Who and The Clash by telling stories of young men trying to work though their way in life and coming to terms with a reality that is not the fantasy world we are told as young people it may be. Perhaps most importantly, Mould brings the lush psychedelic overtones to twin tunes “Dreams Reoccurring” and Reoccurring Dreams”, the latter of which closes the record in a wash of backwards guitars and blissful insanity that it takes multiple listens to decipher and lasts 14 minutes, permanently proving the band has moved beyond the genre of punk rock into something else they have invented- I call it ATLERNATIVE ROCK.
Grant Hart’s acoustic “Never Talking to You Again” is a breath of fresh air after the first two songs, and really adds to the flow of this album by showing the listener that this album is something DIFFERENT. Other such Hart compositions are “Masochism World”, with its delayed verse and powerful delivery, and “Pink Turns to Blue”, a stunning classic rock song (?) amidst all of this fast tempo insanity that while being the most traditional rock tune, may actually be the best or at least prove the band could make a career out of playing “normal” music if they chose. “Standing by the Sea” uses sounds of the actual ocean combined with a pulsating bass line; “What’s Going On” and “Turn On the News” shouts important truths of an alienated America amidst abrupt tempo changes and dissonant guitar chords; “Somewhere” is a power ballad buried under smooth guitar and synth layers. Hart’s old fashioned pop tunes stand well with Mould’s forward thinking angst attacks on the soul.
Lyrically the theme of an afflicted youth moving through a harsh reality is echoed again and again, as life turns out to be complex and not simple like our parents would have us believe. Phrases like “Mom and dad I am sorry / Mom and dad don’t worry / I’m not the son you wanted / what did you expect?” from “Whatever” may ring the truest of all. The album does not suffer from too much filler either, as with multiple listens each tune reveals multiple layers and becomes essential to the whole (if I had to nitpick, I would say cut half the length of “Hare Krishna” and take out “Pride”, an early hardcore number that hammers it’s chorus a little too hard for my taste. But that is the only song I skip when listening to it). Husker Du sounds very serious on Zen Arcade and they are defiantly at their most intense; this might not be the best place to start for novices of the band. Also, it takes a while to absorb these songs (I am talking YEARS in some cases) and all the little in-between psych instrumental numbers add to the surreal quality of the record (“Tooth Fairy and the Princess”, “One Step at a Time”, “Monday Will Never Be the Same”). Zen Arcade is Husker Du’s most intense, ambitious, rewarding double album that sounds totally unique, timeless, and a near- flawless listen after all these years and also marks a new beginning for one of Rock n’ Roll’s greatest bands.
Greatest Songs: Pink Turns to Blue, Whatever, Indecision Time, Masochism World, Chartered Trip, Standing By the Sea
New Day Rising – (4.5 / 5)
Husker Du’s third album is as intense as Zen Arcade, but it sounds calmer. That being said, the level of distortion used throughout the record gives it a very “trebly sheen” only comparable to Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, released in 1985 as well. It opens with the chanty “New Day Rising” which may be the Husker’s theme song to many and somehow the band does make the song worth listening to with only those three words. Many of the band’s greatest songs are on here, and the album shows the band maturing and expanding in a very unique way. “Perfect Example” is a song that is indecipherable lyrically as Mould intentionally sings his lyrics in a mumble to emphasize sounds over language, but has such a cool grove and melody that it doesn’t matter, kind of like Mould finally showing off his melodic chops but stuck in stasis. “Terms of Psychic Warfare” (what a bass line!) is a little tornado of a tune that is danceable but also full so full of reverb it makes you feel dizzy, and it could only come from the warped mind of Grant Hart. “If I Told You” and my personal favorite, “Powerline”, who’s smooth chords erupt into a type of electrical guitar maelstrom that gives the tune its name, are such unique sounding compositions that again, promote flow and distortion over actual lyrics. Some Songs have a radio friendly sound as well, as “Girl Who Lived on Heaven Hill” (who I learned the hard way is about the whiskey and not an actual mountain), “Celebrated Summer” and “I Apologize”, favor catchy choruses and acoustic instrumentation to bring out their entrancing melodies.
Hart also shines on the 1950’s throwback hoedown of “Books About UFO’s”, which is as close to country rock as the band ever got, but again thy pull it off brilliantly! On the downside the album is a bit inconsistent and repetitive, and it is mostly Bob Mould. Songs like “59 Times the Pain” and the closers “Plans I Make” and “Whatch’a Drinkin'” (which renounces Bob’s alcoholic habits) are the only three on here I don’t LIKE, because they are actually too long and that is not good for a band like Husker Du, who usually makes their point and gets on with it. Mould’s guitar chops are typically dynamite, but that doesn’t make up for some boring moments and some overly repetitive choruses. There also some tunes that while successful experiments (the jerky hardcore punk of “Folklore” and the avant-garde rambles of “How to Skin a Cat”) put a sort of question mark on a uniting theme for an album. New Day Rising at times feels like a b-sides album after the much more far reaching Zen Arcade. I am being VERY harsh on this record, but consider that this is usually heralded as the band’s best album and it is though it is really great, it’s not the prime example of a great Husker Du album like some would have you believe. Husker Du can make an album sound rocking and pleasant at the same time like no one else can, and this record does feature some of their greatest single moments. Husker Du is actually one of those bands where I would rather listen to their mediocre songs any day then most artist’s’ best.
Greatest Tunes: Powerline, Terms of Psychic Warfare, Books About UFO’s, Perfect Example
Flip Your Wig – (5 / 5)
Ahh, Flip Your Wig. This probably Husker Du’s most pleasant album as they never made a record with more atmosphere. Some of the songs on here sound like pop music, but made over in a way only Husker Du can. Certain tunes are delivered in this unique manner: “Divide and Conquer”, “Games”, and “Keep Hanging On” could be called weak at first because they have the same problem as some of the longer songs on New Day Rising, but in reality they are all pretty great here and it is shorter album with thirteen actual songs, which helps. Husker Du have improved any minor problem they had on their last album to make another masterpiece. From Grant Hart’s lovely ballad’s “Green Eyes” (that stands as the band’s best song and one of the most moving ballads ever written) and the almost as good “Flexible Flyer” to Mould’s feedback drenched “Find Me” (yet another excellent psychedelic trip) and power pop throwback “Makes No Sense At All” (among Mould’s best pop songs period), the album is full of keepers.
Flip Your Wig also flows better than any other Husker Du album, and though it is ethereal like Zen Arcade in sound, its tone is wildly more adult and timeless. Other album gems include the jovial “Hate Paper Doll”, the punky “Private Plane”, the overtly emotional “Every Everything”, and the two atmospheric instrumental jams at the end of the record, “The Wit and the Wisdom” and “Don’t Know Yet” that show the band could make a career just doing those kind of songs if they wanted to. In two years Husker Du made better albums than any other band ever has in that short amount of time, and no, none of those three should have been combined to make things more solid; each are amazingly consistent works and it may be the greatest three album streak in rock music history. Flip Your Wig is another masterstroke by Husker Du that is completely unique rock music.
Greatest Songs: Green Eyes, Find Me, Makes No Sense at All, Flexible Flyer
Candy Apple Grey – (4.5 / 5)
For a major label debut, Candy Apple Grey is pretty uncompromising. Being the first band off an independent label to successfully move to the majors in 1986, it was a smart move to stay the course. One can hardly scream sell out when the opening track “Crystal” is a mind boggling scream fest by Mould that is one of the more challenging songs the band ever did. Equally as uncompromising are the stripped down, acoustic ballad “Too Far Down” in which Mould again bares his soul and the albums closer “All This I’ve Done For You”. However, a lot of the album is indeed more accessible than the Husker Du of old, but it’s a natural progression rather than a forced one. Mould excels at the better of two acoustics songs on here, “Hardly Getting Over It”, which manages to entertain and calm the listener for over five minutes and is actually one of his better ballads he ever wrote. “Eifel Tower High” is equally as successful, and continues Mould’ss unique songwriting structure where he repeats the ending of the song over and over again. Mould is one of our more unique songwriters, much like his idols Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer and as he would show later in his solo career, Richard Thompson.
The real star of the album appears to be Grant Hart, whose four compositions all stand out among his best. “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” should have been a hit single pure and simple and one of his most melodic gems, and “Sorry Somehow” is probably Hart’s catchiest song ever, blending pensive lyrics with a cavalier chorus ripe for the radio. Hart’s piano ballad towards the end of the record is almost as good as those rock tunes, ”No Promise I Have Made”, though his raw singing approach can at times grate by going out of tune. Other minor flaws on the record would be the boring “I Don’t Know For Sure” that halts any momentum towards the beginning of the record and “Dead Set on Destruction” and “Too Far Down” are merely good tunes that don’t quite have the greatness of their counterparts. Still, it may be a transitional record but it still shows plenty of beautiful, melodic songs and the two acoustic songs of this record especially in the middle show great diversity.
Greatest Songs: Sorry Somehow, I Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely, Hardly Getting Over It, Eifel Tower High
Warehouse: Songs and Stories – (5 / 5)+
My love of pop music makes me believe that this album is not only Husker Du’s best album, it is the best extensive collection of songs on an album that anyone has made. A double album that holds twenty songs on it, every one of them outstanding and every one of them different. The thing on here is Grant Hart and Bob Mould have each fully developed their own sound now, but they have always blended together in odd ways, which kind of makes this album sound like a greatest hits. But it is not a greatest hits, it is just one of the best albums ever made! In another universe, “Could You Be the One”, “Friend You’ve Got to Fall”, and “Up in the Air” are # 1 singles. Hell, “She Floated Away”, “Standing In The Rain”, “No Reservations”, and “It’s Not Peculiar” are bizarre abstractions of pop singles as well and just good enough to avoid any radio play, if you know what I mean. The band has perfected their sound, and their work ethic is strong enough that they were able to produce a truly magical record, where no genres can describe the magical song craft present.
There are very good points made on here, whether they be about being young, breaking up, finding that special person, being famous, or just plain dealing with the oddness of life. “Like a shingle on a roof in a windstorm / should I let loose and fly”, “I’m begging you now a thousand pardons / for all of the wastelands we have been through”, “taking all of this is taking all of me / sometimes I wish I had the energy / when it falls apart like fragments of our lives / give a little bit and give a lot to die.” These are words to live by, and it is obvious how much the band has grown in the small amount of time. Even the subject matter for the songs are evolved far beyond what they used to be, as we have gone from the early days of “Pride” and “Guns at My School” to things like “Charity, Chastity, Prudence and Hope” and “She’s a Woman and Now He Is A Man”. Husker Du have evolved in five years faster than most bands do in 25 years.
The music is also top notch, with plenty of tricks in structure and melody (the tempo shift of “Back from Somewhere”, Mould’s peculiar brand of repetition at the end of the gorgeous “Standing in the Rain”) and plenty of studio tricks that amplify the psychedelic tendencies (the reverb drenched coda of “You Can Live at Home”, the howling harmonies of “Ice Cold Ice” and “Bed of Nails”, the latter of which might be the only moment on the record that is a bit too overwrought). At twenty songs and 70 minutes, this can definitely be overwhelming to untrained ears and though the music in generally pop oriented and catchy in nature, there is a lot to take in. Some have said that Hart and Mould have evolved beyond each other in songwriting styles here, but it still sounds pretty unified to me, I think are just both at their peaks. Merely 3 years after Zen Arcade, this is another concept record about growing up but THIS one is about all of us as human beings. If you have to get just one Husker Du album, get this one, because it is the band’s final summation of life and it really defines what the band is about and for that matter, what life is all about.
Greatest Songs: It’s Not Peculiar, Visionary, You Can Live At Home, Standing In The Rain, No Reservations, She Floated Away
Compilations (EP’s, Live albums, Greatest Hits, etc.)
Metal Circus – (4.5 / 5)
The third recording by the band realllly shows a cleaned up sound and a more assured melodic center. This is in part because of Grant Hart’s songs, “It’s Not Funny Anymore” and “Diane”, which are the best songs on the record and the most radio friendly with their catchy choruses. The mix of punk fury and insanely hummable melodies was largely new, and proved to be massively influential in years to come, basically many subgenres of punk music were born from this one EP – pop-punk, emocore, popcore, etc. Bob Mould proves himself a better songwriter than he was on the first two Husker records by being harsh and bitter while also surprisingly hopeful on “First of the Last Calls” and opener “Real World”, both of which paint an abstract songwriter lost in a world that he feels isolated in. Unfortunately there are a couple of duds as well, as the lesser “Lifeline” and “Deadly Skies” do nothing to improve the status of the album.
Metal Circus ends with a lot of hope, as it points toward the direction the band would go with their next record Zen Arcade: “Diane” is a disturbing portrayal of a rapist that believes he is in love with a girl that loves him back (as the chorus has double meaning as well) and eventually just kills her, and “Out of Limb” is like the aftermath of that song as the killer sifts through the muck and tries to find a place to hide the body. This not only showed a huge leap in concept but also how the two songwriters could play off one another and work towards a greater whole. Another thing that is not mentioned as much is the stellar playing of the musicians; as a trio they have really matured as Greg Norton plays abstract yet melodic bass lines, Hart’s drumming controls the dynamics of the song, and Mould’s guitar distortion is used in insanely creative ways, especially when he is simply playing and not also singing. At only 18 minutes I would put this is the category of EP, even though the first two husker albums were also under 30 minutes at least they had 12 songs are more and fit into the genre of hardcore punk more openly. Husker Du are moving toward rock music that has no genre and no limits on Metal Circus, and the possibilities are endless.