Wednesday, April 23, 2008

District Line - Bob Mould

District Line

Bob Mould
Anti Records.

SCQ Rating: 90%

A casual glance at the life’s work of Bob Mould is eye-opening, not only for someone like myself (who has never knowingly listened to Husker Du, Sugar, or any of his previous solo work), but anyone who holds alternative rock close to their heart. While my ignorance to the service Mould has played in contemporary rock is undergoing some major, crunch-time schooling, even the most committed rock historian will find some additional grounds to deem Mould a shoe-in for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status. If his punk roots, a sudden move to the countryside to record an acoustic album, or his electronic experiments included in my Wikipedia link fail to tantalize you into his solo work, you haven’t heard District Line.

Named after the Washington neighbourhood that Mould now calls home (not the busy London tunnel that some have assumed), District Line is a distillation of Mould’s multifaceted career thus far; the introverted mood of his solo work and Sugar-era pop hooks married to the electronic washes he mastered on Modulate. Or so I read. Whether these songs prove bolder in construction than his previous work is obviously not for me to answer, but his studied love of music (from his chaotic days in Husker Du in the 80s to his love of DJ-ing at Washington’s largest clubs) is expertly displayed in these ten songs of unabashed honesty.

The disc digs in early with ‘Stupid Now’, a modern rock song that thrives off recycled radio-structures without becoming stale; its repetitive lyrics and explosive chorus is engineered by someone who helped write the rules, keep in mind. This veteran status is evident throughout, not only because Mould allegedly wrote ‘The Silence Between Us’, one of the strongest rockers here, in five minutes, but because he never leans too heavily on tried-and-true ideas. ‘Miniature Parade’ is a late highlight featuring ascending cello lines while ‘Shelter Me’ is the sole track to be entirely electronic – a potential black sheep that not only herds well with others, but is perhaps the most impressive track here.

More importantly, Mould still seems intent on proving himself, as if he’s humbly unaware of his growing legacy. The lyrics of ballad ‘Again and Again’ are fatalistic but confident: “I took the bullets from the carport / Tossed them in my backpack / Placed a set of keys inside the grill / I left the title to the house inside the piano bench / And my lawyer’s got the will.” In an album that deals almost exclusively in finding yourself amid the turmoil of relationships, this set of lyrics is easily the most troubling. But still, when considering the lyrical content of most other middle-aged rockers (Tom Petty’s complaints against the record business, Springsteen’s steadfast attempts at metaphysical storytelling, etc,), Mould is singing about love and loss; two subjects that are sure to exclude no one.

After a career as diverse and original as Mould’s, District Line is a gift, in both its accessibility and its basic existence. At the age of 47, Mould continues to refine his songcraft to devastating effect, writing heartfelt but optimistic songs like ‘Old Highs, New Lows’ while his colleagues retire, or worse, relive their glory years in the B-class Casino circuit. District Line is too fresh to ignore, too comfortable to dislike and too addictive for me to describe. It’s a record that aspires to be top-notch rock, and while that might sound less ambitious than his resume would suggest, it’s precisely what we all need sometimes.

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