Almost as legendary as his mammoth guitar attacks are Bob Mould’s introspective battles with his psyche. Since his early days in the seminal post-punk band Husker Du, Mould has looked to channel his intense restlessness and volcanic anger into exceptional musical creations. On his latest release “Sunshine Rock” Mould utilizes the power pop approaches of his “Sugar” incarnation. He intentionally veers away from the darkness that he has often been more than comfortable to remain amidst on prior efforts.
“Sunshine Rock” is Mould’s thirteenth solo venture and continues the career revival Mould has been experiencing since the 2014 release of “Beauty and Ruin”. “Sunshine Rock”, reveals a performer who consciously wants to reflect on the positive aspects of living. This emotional volte-face was inspired by Mould spending extensive time living in Berlin over the last three years. His time in the city has been a turning point in his life and helped him reach a long sought after catharsis. On this album Mould attempts to no longer linger on darker events and his tendency toward depression, instead looking for the silver lining and developing his coping skills. “Sunshine Rock” reflects these efforts. The end result is an album that leans more towards Mould’s Sugar efforts rather than his super dark “Black Sheet of Rain” era. The listener, however, would make a mistake in assuming that without that bleak sheen “Sunshine Rock” is a lightweight outing. The release maintains all the potency of ideas and sonics that Mould has offered on his darker works.
On this recording an uncharacteristically joyfully Mould unleashes his unique songwriting and epic guitar skills. He is once again backed by returning musicians Jon Wurster on drums and Jason Narducy on bass. This trio formation continues to make music alchemy. After four albums with this configuration, it is apparent that Mould seems to work best within this power trio. A new addition to Mould’s sonic palette is the addition of orchestral strings. On the new release, Mould wrote the string arrangements while collaborator Alison Chesley transcribed the arrangements for various instruments. The Prague TV Orchestra was enlisted to play on the recording. The addition of the orchestral strings only enhances the intense sounds of the rock element on the release.
“Sunshine Rock” begins with the title track and it is a super amped adrenalin rush. Surprisingly the strings add just the right drama and grandeur to the glorious guitar work that has made Mould a legend. The lyrics advise the listener to grab life by the neck and make it do what is desired. After seeking so long for answers it is a pleasure to hear Mould find some satisfaction. The track “What Do You Want Me to Do” is a “balls to the wall” stomper about a lovers quarrel. It is filled with Mould’s stunning slashing guitar licks. The lyrics characterize the “catch 22” of a relationship where you can’t seem to do anything right and respond in frustration with the title declaration. “Sunny Love Song” is Husker Du sensibilities refit for the 21st century. It contains serious ladlings of DIY Punk aesthetics. Once again the guitar work is stunning as Mould displays all his pop/aggressive rock skills. It is a deeply satisfying track. “Thirty Dozen Roses” is a breakneck-paced look at the catharsis that is reached at the end of a relationship. This cranking assault of guitar goodness transports the listener to the glories of thrashing out your angst in a post-punk club.
After the hypervelocity of post-punk power trio goodness on the first tracks, Mould slows things down a tad on “The Final Years”. This song has less sonic aggression and showcases the wisdom Mould has attained through struggle. Mould’s raw emotional vocals evoke a bittersweet regret. He realizes that his rage was often misspent and created damage as he ponders, “What do we cherish in the final years?” This change up of tempo proves Mould can do heartfelt sensitive introspection better than most and the song is almost Chillwave for Mould. After that tempo break Mould skitters right back to cranking intensity with “Irrational Poison”. Unlike his efforts on releases like “Black Sheets of Rain” which wallowed in the lacerations of the psyche; here Mould acknowledges that we taint our lives with poison if we obsess about the sins of the past. There are seriously mad drums on this track and Mr Narducy does some great harmonies that deserve note. The string arrangement on the track also adds a delightful sonic depth that makes it so alluring. “I Fought” will sending you bouncing around the room with its inherent punk drive. It is a combination of war cry, catharsis and a sinister nightmare that are blended perfectly by Mould the master songwriter.
“Sin King” slows the pace down again with a quasi-funk groove that is so very addictive. The track proves that Mould is an underappreciated emeritus professor of Post Punk musical brilliance. The real standout of the album is “Lost Faith”. The track is slower paced, but what makes it unique for Mould is that although he identifies how disappointed he is with the world, unlike prior efforts where he would abandon all hope and dive deeper into despair, here he draws himself up short, “Stop this now, this is the place to stop myself.” He continues to exhort,” don’t let your hopes and dreams disappear”. That glimmer of hope and resilience is gripping especially coming from Mould. Following on the positive vibe of “Lost Faith”, “Camp Sunshine” is a sunlit blast of happiness in an ode to childhood summer camp. The simple guitar and tambourine make the song endearing as Mould shares some guidelines for life learned as a camper. He now equates the recording studio to that camp experience. His cover of the Dutch quartet Shocking Blue’s “Send Me a Postcard” is outrageously fantastic. The combination of joy, those guitars and post-punk urgency on this “one take” recording make it truly special. Mould closes out the release with “Western Sunset” a midtempo selection with inspired strings. Mould completes the delivery of his premise providing hope for the musical universe and another dose of brilliant guitar-driven rock. In this closing track, he states that he is “Thankful for allowing me to bend your ears”, a great upbeat way to end a stellar recording.
Mould does it again with “Sunshine Rock” presenting a collection of engaging and potent works. He gets more laser-like in the delivery of his message on each outing. There is not a weak song in the collection and they are often presented in a breathtaking, breakneck pace over 12 tracks and a scant 37 minutes. Mould has been building to this crescendo over his last three releases and “Sunshine Rock” is the peak of his resurgence thus far. Mould’s works are always noteworthy but when he decides to unleash his pop side (see his Sugar offerings) things get really exciting. Time and again I am overwhelmed with Mould’s guitar mastery and songwriting abilities and they are on full display on this release. “Sunshine Rock” is a worthy addition to Mould’s storied discography.