CD Review : Bob Mould, “Life and Times”

Mention Bob Mould to a music lover theses days, and you’ll be given a quizzical look, followed by the question, “Isn’t he doing dance music now?”

It’s a valid question. After all, the former leader of melodic noise-mongers Husker Du and Sugar did work as a DJ before releasing an electronic album, Modulate, back in 2002. However, on his two last two albums, 2005’s Body of Song and 2008’s District Line, Mould has re-engaged with that guitar that he once threatened to scrap. Now, as he puts it in the title track on his new album Life and Times, he’s getting taken “back to the places I’ve left behind.”

Not content just to strap on his guitar, Mould produced, mixed and played everything but the drums (played by Superchunk’s Jon Wurster). While some electronic shadings remain, especially on “Lifetime,” now that Mould is channelling his electronic muse through his side project, Blowoff, he’s been freed to focus on his guitar once more.

And he doesn’t just play the guitar he works it to a fever-pitch. There are untold layers of acoustic and electric here and but it’s those big distorted chords and wailing solos on songs like “MM17” and “Spiralling Down,” that make you want to jump up and down. And Mould’s cracked open his songbook again, writing powerful melodies like the more reflective “I’m Sorry Baby, You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More” and the raging “Argos,” to carry these tales of woe and casual sex.

In recent interviews Mould has said that his model for this album is his own highly acclaimed 1989 solo debut, Workbook. And while this album shares some of the sombre acoustic folk-rock of that album, it also layers it with the paint-peeling feedback of his less-acclaimed follow up Black Sheets of Rain. For this album, it seems Mould has gone back to the beginning of his solo career to re-set the balance between the beautiful and the harrowing.

If Life and Times is a dance album, it’s a victory dance. So, if you’ve been avoiding Mould’s newer work, now’s the time to throw this album on your sound system of choice and dance until you break something.