Bob Mould (photo by Alicia J. Rose, PR)
For the past 40 years, Bob Mould has been a trailblazer of rock 'n' roll. He has merged hardcore, punk, power pop and even electronica into molten and melodic blasts of literate musical energy. His influence and longevity has earned him a place on the Mount Rushmore of alternative and indie rock.
But despite the groundbreaking work already under his belt, the 58-year-old Mould is on a remarkable mid-career stretch of late, creating some of the most vital music of his storied career. His 13th solo album, Sunshine Rock, which follows 2016's excellent Patch the Sky, is a thunderous masterstroke.
It's the fourth consecutive album, since 2012's Silver Age, where Mould thrives again as part of a trio, working with drummer Jon Wurster of Superchunk and the Mountain Goats and bassist Jason Narducy. Despite Sunshine Rock's title and the brightly colored cover art (set on a black background), this is not an overly jovial album of sunny pop; it's as dense with overdriven guitars as virtually anything Mould has done in the past. The new songs retain the dark, emotional honesty and personal gravity one has come to expect from the musician. Yet peel away the high-powered grunge and intense introspection, and there are doses of positivity and optimism that aren’t typically found in Mould's lyrics.
Sunshine Rock retains the turmoil, but also offers a remedy. One reason for Mould’s refreshed outlook is his recent move from San Francisco to Berlin, Germany, a city that he loves; that infatuation fuels Sunshine Rock. The title track kicks off the album with a blast of drums and guitar, sweetened with ascending piano. “They don’t love you like I love you," declares Mould. "I won’t leave you in the dark. Look above you, I will love you, in the sunshine on the rock.”
“Camp Sunshine” is a gentle sentiment, vaguely reminsicent of the White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends.” The healing power of music courses through “Sunny Love Song," as Mould sings to his adopted city of Berlin: “There was rain and cold and dark/I wondered why I left the sun behind me/It’s a long long way from California/To Berlin, so filled with melancholia/Winter came and paralyzed me.”
But Sunshine Rock heads in bleaker directions too. The driving onslaught of “Thirty Dozen Roses" paints a picture of a relationship gone rotten. Veiled references to the current political climate can be found in “Sin King," regret sets in with age in “The Final Years,” and despair runs throughout “Lost Faith.” But as “Western Sunset” assures at album’s end, all will be okay.
The first half of Sunshine Rock is powerfully paced, with every song butting up against the next. That rapid-fire sequencing eases up somewhat on the second half of the album, but the energy level remains ramped up. It’s here, near the album’s end, that the lone cover song appears—Mould's take on “Send Me A Postcard,” originally released in 1968 by the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue, best known for their 1969 hit song “Venus.”
It's been four decades since Mould’s professional debut in Hüsker Dü, those St. Paul, Minnesota seminal hardcore power punksters (although the band's riveting debut album, Land Speed Record, didn't come out until 1982). Thirty years have passed since Mould's solo debut, 1989's Workbook. His foray in the trio Sugar began in 1992 (and ended in 1996), but since that time, Mould has focused on his solo releases, experimenting with different musical approaches, even veering into electronic music on 2002's Modulate.
In 2008, District Line found Mould in the thick of heavy, propulsive, guitar driven rock again—and there he stays today. Sunshine Rock is the sound of a musician comfortable with where he is now, artistically and at home. While he hasn't totally turned his back on his sharply melancholic streak, on Sunshine Rock Mould is willing to throw open a window, bask in the sun, and admit that life can be pretty good sometimes.
Catch up to Bob Mould in concert in a new FUV Live session, recorded at Rockwood Music Hall, on Tuesday, February 19 at 8 p.m., EST on 90.7FM, streaming at WFUV.org.