Bob Mould roars back with a blistering volley of protest anthems and introspection. Less than 18 months after the release of his upbeat LP, Sunshine Rock, Mould lets fly with Blue Hearts - a searing, swirling fourteen track dynamo that rips through you, leaving no doubt about his view on the current state of play.
You could almost divide the album into two distinct parts; with the US elections now just a matter of weeks away, the first half of Blue Hearts is mainly a political tirade towards the American government and its president. The second batch of songs is much more reflective and inward-looking. Mould is brilliantly complemented by his now regular, bone-shaking rhythm section of Jon Wurster on drums and bassist Jason Narducy.
Even though ‘Heart on my Sleeve’ is a relatively calm-sounding, acoustic opener about the culture of denial towards climate change, Mould’s lyrics are direct and pointed - “The rising tide of a broken government” / I wear my heart on my sleeve. Don’t know who to believe, don’t know what to believe anymore”. A clear air of resignation hangs heavy with Mould here.
Mould sings of the potential trail of destruction & uncertainty we are leaving behind for our children in the defiant and honest ‘Next Generation’ - “Who knows what things will be like, two generations from now”. Similarly, ‘Fireball’ at a ferocious one minute and forty seconds has an intense and apocalyptic warning shot about it.
‘American Crisis’, released as the album’s first single in June of this year, tears into the current, narcissistic US establishment with raw anger, disbelief and a smattering of fear - “Wake up every day to see a nation in flames / we click and we tweet and we spread these tales of blame. / It’s another American crisis / keeps me wide awake at night”. The key lyric here is ‘another’. Mould lived through the 1980s, writing & touring with his seminal Husker Du as a young, gay man in an America that was horrifyingly mute during the HIV / AIDS crisis. We now find ourselves to be re-living this tragic chain of events during 2020, in a frighteningly parallel dimension. As with so many global tragedies that were treated with denial and zero realisation, he finishes the track with the warning line, “never forget, silence was death”.
Through his music, Bob Mould fiercely confronts some weighty and momentous global issues on this release, however, he always delivers them with a fine melody at their core, and not completely bereft of hope. ‘Forecast of Rain’ charts Mould’s personal struggle in embracing religion, made ever more unreachable seeing the behaviour of so-called evangelists occupying the ‘People’s House’ - “My truth is different than your distortions and disguised interpretations, twisting the words of ancient times”. This is one of the best tracks on the album with echoes of the fantastic ‘Hoover Dam’ from Sugar's 1992 legendary Copper Blue.
The rapid-fire pace of ‘Siberian Butterfly’ is juxtaposed against its beautiful title. Here, Mould uses this species as a metaphor to lash out at those who use their wealth to gather and cocoon various memorabilia of artists to inflate their egos - “Instead you drill and pillage everything of beauty / “In your biosphere, you pin these wings so dear”. The song also encapsulates Mould’s own struggle to be comfortable in his own skin as a young writer and singer all those years ago and hopes that it can serve as some inspiration for those that are trying to find their way through the maze of freedom and self-expression to become the true person they were destined to be.
‘When You Left’ (“Am I revealing too much of myself? / Every day was filled with hate”) and ‘Little Pieces’ are truly vulnerable and heartfelt. ‘Everything to You’ is love-fuelled and optimistic - “We get there somehow with not much know-how”. ‘Leather Dreams’, as the title suggests, is provocative and sexually-charged. ‘Password to my Soul’ fuses autobiographical insight and global politics - “Unless you teach me kindness, the blindness will grow / We turn to music when our hearts are filled with doubt / I hope this world will right itself somehow”.
The final track, ‘The Ocean’ concludes with over sixty seconds of distortion and guitar feedback, almost leaving us to ponder the scale of the current issues facing humanity. The song itself feels anthemic, soulful and haunting - “You said, I might not be there to prevent this in the future / You’re better without me / The currents are taking me further out to sea”.
Blue Hearts, produced by Bob Mould himself at Chicago’s Electrical Audio studios, is in one respect a venomous accusation at those in power who he deems culpable for today’s chaos, but only because Mould loves this earth & this life with its kaleidoscope of colours, and cares enough to shout about it. When listening, you cannot help hear the quickening of Mould’s music, a sudden urgency, converging to a critical tipping point. It feels like a race, we are at a crossroads, and the time is now to make some crucial decisions on how we live our lives. Bob Mould brings this truly into focus in a brutal and hook-laden fashion.