Bob Mould‘s post-Sugar career has been consistently good. A brief foray into electronica on 2002’s Modulate baffled many fans (though maybe the time is right to reassess that album), but that aside, he has been on a strong run since the dissolution of his second influential power-trio, with 1998’s ‘The Last Dog And Pony Show‘ and 2008’s ‘District Line‘ being particular favourites of mine.
As good as this work was, though, it could be argued that Mould had settled into a fairly safe singer-songwriter niche. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, especially when the singer-songwriter is producing standout tracks like ‘Walls In Time‘, ‘Again And Again‘ and ‘I’m Sorry Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Anymore‘, but some long-time fans may have missed those distinctive Mould elements; the hollered yet melodic vocals, the big choruses, and especially the swarm-of bees guitar sound he pioneered back in the Hüsker Dü days.
In 2012, though, following the publication of his superb autobiography ‘See A Little Light: The Trail Of Rage And Melody‘ the previous year, Bob released ‘Silver Age‘, an album of loud, melodic anthems such as ‘The Descent‘ and the title track. Although there had been punky moments on some of the preceding albums, this was Bob Mould like we hadn’t heard him for a while, and it was fantastic. In 2014 he followed it up with ‘Beauty And Ruin‘, which was even stronger. So strong, in fact, that it was probably his best work since the Sugar classic ‘Copper Blue‘. Songs like ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore‘ and ‘Fix It‘ buzzed with energy, while ‘The War‘ may be the best thing he’s done in fifteen years. What makes a man in his fifties suddenly rediscover his mojo to this extent? Maybe it was the twenty year anniversary Copper Blue tour he undertook in 2011. Maybe it was looking back on his career with his autobiography. Maybe it was personal circumstances. Whatever the reason, Bob was on a creative streak.
As with the two preceding albums, Bob is backed on Patch The Sky by bass player Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, and the results are the same. Perhaps another key factor in the recent creative resurgence is having a settled band. Bob recently said this is the best band he has ever played with; praise indeed from the man who was in Hüsker Dü and Sugar, and who had such a great backing band on ‘Workbook‘, but it’s easy to see why; at the recent Brooklyn Bowl gig in London, the chemistry and enjoyment was plain to see, and it translates on record. This is an album packed with huge melodies, buzzing guitars and tight drumming, exemplified by tracks like ‘The End Of Things‘ and ‘Losing Time‘. It is full of the kind of uplifting choruses that has been a trademark for over thirty years, but the melodies mask an edge of lyrical darkness that flows through the work. This is another trademark of Bob’s: addressing personal politics and relationships with power-pop anthems. While the bright melodies on display are close to ‘Copper Blue’ in spirit, lyrically the album has more in common with Beaster.
Texture is provided by the slower paced ‘Black Confetti‘ and brilliant single ‘Voices In My Head‘, but the order of the day here is loud guitars, with the kind of melodies most people would kill for, but which Bob seems to produce almost effortlessly.
It seems for the past four years, I’ve been consistently saying ‘this is the best Bob Mould album in years‘. After a few listens to ‘Patch The Sky’, I’m happy to be able to roll the same phrase out once again.
Patch The Sky is released on March 25th 2016 through Merge Records.