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After his heroic exploits in Hüsker Dü and then Sugar, Bob Mould has the right to make whatever music he goddamn well likes. And his dabblings with dance music over the last decade... I mean, I'm not really sure anyone wanted him to do it but you know, it's Bob, it's cool, whatever.
But after spending much of 2012 taking the songs of Sugar’s crunchy classic Copper Blue out on the road for a twentieth anniversary tour, he's seemingly reconnected with his will to make bright, crunchy guitar pop. Some of his recent solo stuff has been straighter down the line than the rest, but Silver Age is indubitably the poweriest, poppiest and least camp record to bear his name in eons, possibly ever as a solo artist.
Bob is giving us what we want, essentially, so yee-ha, yes? Pretty much. I mean, if this was a fourth Sugar record – and spiritually, that’s kind of the deal here – then we’d maaaaybe all feel a bit underwhelmed. Mould hasn’t really made a power pop record for the best part of two decades, but maybe that's because there's only so much you can really do with the medium. Opener ‘Star Machine’ is inauspicious, a LOUD-quiet-LOUD attack on record industry ne’er-do-wells that kind of pushes the right buttons in lumbering fashion but also comes saddled with the vague suspicion that it’s exactly the sort of song Dave Grohl would write to start an album.
But it’s the only real instance of Silver Age feeling laboured. Mostly energy and melody win out, with all ten tracks fired out in 38 minutes and lyrics that seem to address his past rather than simply homage it. ‘The Descent’, in particular, seems to deal with Mould’s ambivalent approach to his back catalogue over the years: “I didn’t want to play the song that gave people so much hope”, he barks, before concluding, “can I try to make it up to you somehow?” ; whether or not there’s a note of sarcasm here, the fact is that he has re-embraced his old material and that this is a lovely song, harmonies too swoonful to be knocked off as mere pastiche of his old ways.
There’s a lot of looking back: ‘Briefest Moment’ seems to vaguely sketch the days when Husker Du was fun (“I was just a small-town kid with no possessions and I was bored beyond belief… so I packed my bags and ran away... I left my misery behind, if only for the briefest moment of time”); ‘Silver Age’ (“another rock saint’s gonna take my place”) and ‘The Descent’ (“no hits coming now”) both seem to address a belated acceptance that he’s never going to write music that competes with his critical and commercial heydays. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing: “I’m never too old to retain my rage” he snarls on ‘Silver Age’ and you believe him – accepting that people want to hear Sugar songs and want to hear Bob Mould make powerpop is not the same as pandering.
If Mould acknowledges here that his solo career is always going to be overshadowed by his former bands then, er, this record isn’t going to change that: Silver Age’s songs come across as a little homogeneous, with the start of closer ‘First Time Joy’ the only pause for breath in a record that might have benefited from a shade more nuance. But it's an exhilarating homogeneous mass, which is all that really counts. And they DON’T make ‘em like this anymore, they really don’t.