Every 10 years, Bob Mould morphs. In 1982, his first band, melodic punk legend Hüsker Dü, issued its debut full-length, Land Speed Record. In 1992, Mould’s far more radio-friendly outfit, Sugar, released its debut, Copper Blue. Then, in 2002, Mould dropped two electronic-based albums, Modulate and Long Playing Grooves, that explored new textural territory while holding much of his fan base at arm’s length. Since then, he’s drifted gradually toward a more guitar-centric sound that incorporates bits of everything he’s done to date—almost. The one implement in Mould’s toolbox that’s been mostly absent lately is the kind of snarling, shimmering distortion that he first introduced on Land Speed Record, an abrasive live album that even the most ardent Mould fans tend to shun. Mould’s new solo album, Silver Age, comes at the cusp of another 10-year period. But rather than turning into something new, it settles into some comforting old sounds.
Comforting, however, does not equate with laid-back. On opener “Star Machine,” a sharp, jagged riff rips open the disc as if it were a tin can. When the chorus hits, it does so with a punch and focus that’s been missing from Mould’s most recent albums, the scattered yet excellent trio of Body Of Song, District Line, and Life And Times. Where those albums retained hints of slick pop, balladry, broad dynamics, and that lingering squiggle of electronics, Silver Age just rocks. In Mould’s case, though, “just rocking” has always meant more: more melody, more smarts, more craft, and more depth of emotion. That holds true on the shiny, anthemic “The Descent,” which—with typical Mould contrarianism—spirals upward on a gloriously ascending chord pattern. Meanwhile, Mould’s lyrics—delivered in a refreshed, reinvigorated voice that transcends the decades—traffic in his wheelhouse: the dysfunction at the heart of human interaction. “Can I drown / To make it up to you somehow?” he sings acidly, but the aftertaste is sweet, sticky syrup.
On “Briefest Moment,” one of the disc’s most breathless and infectious tracks, Mould pulls back from the cryptic angst and lunges straight for the heartstrings. “I was a small-town kid with no possessions / And I was bored beyond belief,” begins his tale, a streak of unguarded autobiography that seems to have been inspired by his own recent memoir. Playful and unabashedly bubbly, it’s the sound of Mould opening wide—and even grinning. All those glances backward wind up resulting in flashes of rehash. Most strikingly, “Keep Believing” reworks Mould’s own hooky riff from “A Good Idea,” one of Copper Blue’s signature tunes, and “Angels Rearrange” oozes all the simmering, minor-key venom of late-period Hüsker Dü. Silver Age isn’t a full-on revival of those tried-and-true approaches—but it does mark another 10-year shift for Mould, one in which he revisits old haunts, clears out the weeds, and plants a fresh flag.