The ex-Husker Du and Sugar man has 'history' but the question Body Of Song raises is,...
Jack Smith 2005-04-26
In the UK, Bob Mould - like Jonathan Richman - is in the unfortunate position of being heard of more often than he is actually heard. Despite being credited alongside The Pixies as inventor of the distorted, melodic guitar noise that would one day be packaged as grunge, it's rare these days to actually hear Husker Du or Sugar, the bands upon which he made his formidable reputation. As he recently rued on his blog, "I have a history". The question Body Of Song raises is, does he have a future?
The answer is a reserved yes. The album sees Mould largely abandoning the uneasy electronica of 2002's Modulate, a record that deserved its muted response, and returns to the fuzzy wall of guitar noise that first made him famous. However, traces of his love of club culture remain in the heavily treated vocals and the looping melodies of "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope" and "I Am Vision, I Am Sound".
The overall musical effect is of a man trying to find a balance in a chequered past. It's a mood reflected in a set of lyrics that grapple with the doubts and regrets of middle age - as Mould laments on the piledriving opener "Circles," "my circle of friends is shrinking". As one of the few gay men to have emerged from the American hardcore underground, Mould has long pioneered an emotional vulnerability that Kurt Cobain later adopted as his own. It's on full display here on the lovely, lilting "High Fidelity", a naked plea for love built on little more than a gently plucked guitar and Mould's throaty, plaintive voice.
Fortunately, Mould is too complex a figure to end up as a kind of alt-rock David Gray; there are plenty of rough edges here too, notably on seething album centrepiece "Underneath Days" and the clipped, punky pop of "Best Thing". It's only on flimsier fare such as the indie-by-numbers "Paralyzed" that you begin to suspect that in delving into so many nooks and crannies of his musical past, Mould has spread his talent a little thin.
Body Of Song works best as a reminder of a great and under-rated talent rather than any great leap forward, more history book than future vision.