Body of Song (Cooking Vinyl)
~reviewed by Stuart Moses
You might know Bob Mould as singer/guitarist for Husker Du. You might have become aware of him when he played a similar role in Sugar. That’s when I fell in love with his full-frontal guitar assault. Since the early 90s, Bob has experimented with dance music among other things, but Body of Song could easily be the sequel to 1992’s Sugar Blue or 1993’s Beaster. This is a wonderful thing in my book. Loud guitars and whiny singing aren’t always my first choice of listening. I’m not really a fan of the latter, but mix some moaning with 100-mph electric guitars and melodies and suddenly it sounds like the most life affirming thing ever.
The opening of “Circles” sounds like something from R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People album, but soon Bob’s trademark guitars arrive. This is mid-paced alternative rock, the sort of things Pixies might do if they had grown up in a small-town suburb rather than at the bottom of a swamp. Though we shouldn’t forget that it is actually Pixies that sound like Bob Mould in his Husker Du days. There are traces of Bob Mould’s dance direction “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope” in the use of vocoder and drumming. This adds another layer to Bob’s sound and keeps things feeling fresh. There are plenty of guitars to keep the interest of those that look at glowsticks with suspicion.
How can music be simultaneously so happy and yet so sad? Bob’s lyrics document doomed or difficult relationships: “I feel paralysed most every time you come round to see me” (“Paralysed”). Yet the music tells a different story. It is so full of life, perhaps it is this dichotomy that keeps me listening. More vocal effects dog “I Am Vision, I Am Sound” which sounds like an unfinished studio jam. All the parts are in place it just lacks the polish shown elsewhere.
Bob finds himself standing in the eye of a hurricane, raging at the injustices of his world in “Underneath Days”. Perhaps I find his music so uplifting through catharsis. Do I share in Bob’s suffering and feel better for having had it expressed? Are the wall-of-sound guitars an activating agent? The last thirty seconds of this song sees the tempo drop and some experimental noises introduced. It’s a good idea - as effective as Bob’s signature guitar sound is, it could become bludgeoning with too much repetition.
The music becomes introspective to match the lyrics during “Always Tomorrow” which makes an effective change of pace. “It doesn’t matter how much I say/It wouldn’t register anyway,” sings Bob, before offering us the grain of hope in that there is “Always tomorrow.” The tenderness on display reminds me of American Music Club. When Bob wasn’t experimenting with dance, he has been having dalliances with folk. This quieter side suits him, though I prefer it as a break from the guitar onslaught rather than a permanent change of style.
“Days of Rain” is as languid as Bob Mould gets. The singing is mixed further to the front than before. While the idea of a ‘river of tears’ is hardly an original image, Bob can be forgiven as this is but a part of a truly affecting whole. Nice use of cello too. This slow-paced style is surprisingly an integral part of the Mould magic, he’s played solo semi-acoustic performances in the past. But we’re back in Sugar-pop full-on band assault for “Best Thing”.
The pace drops again for “High Fidelity” which is a good song, despite the title evoking music players/hi-fis and the novel by Nick Hornby which I doubt was Bob’s intention. There’s some discordant Christmassy xylophone past the two minute mark and a Hammond organ on overdrive, just in case you thought things might be getting predictable. It makes sense to mix the styles on this album so “Missing You” is another Sugar Blue-era blast of guitar loveliness.
The cello makes a welcome return for the peculiarly named “Gauze Of Friendship” which shows the folkier side of Mould again. At least at first. We have a loud guitar climax which shows an effective use of dynamics. “Beating Heart The Prize” is a six and a half minute epic which brings the album to a close. We get the first proper guitar solo of the album – which shows remarkable restraint considering how much guitar there is on this album.
Bob Mould has been around in various guises for many years now. Body of Song shows he has lost none of his touch when it comes to crafting emotionally volatile pop songs, with catchy melodies. His wall-of-sound guitars might be the most popular side of his music – with me at least – but his diversions into folk and dance enrich the songs on offer here. If you’ve been a fan of any of his previous work then there’s more to enjoy here. If you’ve never heard any Bob Mould before then this is a good place to start.
The website: www.bobmould.com