Monday, April 14, 2008

Club Baby Head, Pt. 3: Shit, Oops, Sugar

In my punk rock jihad years there were two ideologies that drove my fervor. Both hailed from Minneapolis. The Replacements and Husker Du. My belief in both wound up challenged over time, but in the case of The Replacements and Paul Westerberg, the doubt only strengthened my mania.

Upon the deepest of introspection, Husker Du is a grand disappointment. At the time their music would have been characterized as the more complex, adult, multi-layered art. They took on big themes: military industrial complexes, capitalist ennui, philosophical angst, sexual politics funneled into violent crime, etc. But while the topics might have seemed more intellectual, in retrospect, their viewpoints seem almost quaint, politically correct, juvenile.

My son is easily outraged by injustice. He finds it hard to fathom that laws are broken, ignored. This is the tone that mostly prevails in Husker Du's oeuvre.

The Replacements sang about things that seemed far more base, basic. Boners, beers, boredom. But over time their squall has accrued significance instead of diminishing. Their obsessions seem appropriate.

Husker Du broke up before The Replacements did, so both Bob Mould and Grant Hart had a head start on Paul Westerberg in their solo careers. Mould put out a masterpiece called 'Workbook: Compositions for the Young and Old to Sing'. It was a delicate swirl of acoustic and electric virtuosity. His lyrical concerns seemed more universal, more emotional, less culled from the op-ed pages.

A truly brilliant album start to finish. Strangely, this album caused me to feel distanced from Husker Du's output which seemed dated in comparison. I saw him perform acoustically in Boston and it was a true eye opener. He is one of those rare combinations of guitar hero histrionics and songwriting punch. To see this welded together made me have high hopes for the rest of his career.

Soon word got out that he'd started a new band called Sugar. They played Club Baby Head and I was first in line. They were everything I'd hoped for...loud, tuneful, passionate, wild. I could hardly believe it but I liked Bob Mould's new band more than I liked his old one!

Then the record came out. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. What I'd not been able to glean in that glorious live shot were the actual words he was singing. I'd been happy to have him segue from the political statement to the existential musing but now it seemed he'd gone right over to the inane. These words were like jello. Not only were they too sweet and hard to keep on a spoon, I also had the distinct feeling that they were bad for me. That if I examined the ingredients too closely I'd find distasteful things.

And thus my connection to one of the pillars of my religion crumbled away and left me feeling like a guest at a wedding of a friend I no longer felt close to.

What sticks in my craw though is that live show at Club Baby Head. Where had that band been while they were recording that album? How did the simple act of transfer to tape kill such a vital sound?

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