Bob Mould The Silver Age(Merge) Buy it from Insound
There is nothing that this review will tell you about The Silver Age that opening track (and lead single) Star Machine will not. It’s an angry look at fame and betrayal that Bob Mould could have written while Husker Du was still together, and the guitar solo, sing-along chorus and big hooks sound straight out of Sugar’s discography. It’s certainly as good as anything else since Copper Blue, and its dark edge and fed-up-with-it attitude convey a sense of urgency. This album is not Mould trying to recapture the glory days, but it could just as well have been called “The Golden Age,” because some of these songs could fit right in with the Beaster /Copper Blue material without bringing down the quality.
Star Machine is not the best track on The Silver Age, but it is one of them, and that means it is the best way to immediately draw you into the album without causing you to lose interest as it goes on. In addition to the quality of the songwriting, the unrelenting energy from a strong rhythm section (particularly Jon Wurster on drums) and big hooks push the album forward; there is not a song here that overstays its welcome even for a moment, and you may be surprised to learn that the album’s 38 minutes are already over. It’s 38 minutes of proud, snarly rock and roll, and every time you listen, it will pump you up, even if the lyrics are introspective and a bit dark. In that way, it’s not unlike later Husker Du or Sugar.
It’s quite ironic that The Silver Age has no bigger flaw than that it is too energetic, too much like Sugar. Mould has been putting out thrashy punk riffs for thirty years now, and he perfected merging that kind of raw spontaneity with arena-rock choruses since New Day Rising. There is not a weak spot on The Silver Age, but it would be nice to have a ballad or mid-tempo track. That most of these delve into that territory at the end only makes the absence of different material more noticeable.. First Time Joy certainly qualifies, slowing down the tempo a bit as Mould again addresses the dream that he spoke of on Star Machine, and the newfound optimism is a mature way for an aging songwriter to end a statement, but the chorus reaches for the same level an anthemia that the other songs do. That it is able to combine the tender and edgy sides of Mould better than all of its predecessors despite being a full minute longer than most is impressive, but it also means that when it ends, we want more. Lyrically, it feels complete, but nine tracks of unadulterated, carefree rock and roll followed by a composition that is more thoughtful but no less fun illuminates missed opportunities.
There is no question, however, that what differentiates The Silver Age from Mould’s previous work is his lyrics. In his middle-age, Mould is exploring old themes, but with a far more mature point of view. In 1985, he kept insisting, “I apologize.” On The Descent, he goes one step further: “Can I try to make it up to you somehow?” It’s one step further, and far less forceful. He even admits that he “started off so starry-eyed.” Briefest Moment tells a story of running away from a boring small town to find parties and rock and roll (it is certainly autobiographical). There are poignant, unpretentious lyrics all throughout the album, so while the songs may not be quite as good as his output from so long ago (but they’re way closer than they should be), the lyrics make this album one that you will add into your Husker Du/Sugar. It’s Mould’s most mature album, and for that reason, it is definitely his best solo album, too.
The Silver Age is not the best record of the year, but it is certainly one of the most unpretentious and easily liked records of the year. Whether you have heard all of Mould’s records or have never listened to anything he has done, The Silver Age will pick up your care-free attitude right where you left it. It’s disappointing that on an album about moving on Mould has stayed so rooted in his musical past, but most of these tracks are too good for that to not be forgiven. There’s plenty here to get excited about, even if you will feel like you’ve heard it before your first time through.10 September, 2012 - 09:18 — Forrest Cardamenis