Sunshine Rock? Bob Mould? The man who could cover Junior Senior‘s ‘Move Your Feet‘ and make it sound like a suicide note? Worry not, longtime Bob fans, for despite its cheery title and unusually high major chord quotient, Sunshine Rock sees our hero continuing his recent run of big, bold, loud power trio records, and this time he’s louder than he’s been since Sugar‘s 1993 Beaster album, seeing the occasional glimpse of sunlight through the clouds but still as angry and angsty as ever and, as he nears the big 60 (and following the death of former bandmate Grant Hart), raging against the dying of the light.
The opening seconds of the title track – jaunty indie rock, shimmering keyboards, ba-ba-bas and Bob singing “They don’t love you like I love you” – could almost fool you into believing that this is his ‘pop’ album. As could the childlike strum of ‘Camp Sunshine‘, a nostalgic look back at a life in music and friends lost along the way (“The days I get to spend making music with my friends/Are always most important to me/There’s always songs galore, I’m always writing more“), and the high octane, undeniably Husker Du-ish charge through Shocking Blue‘s proto-punk ‘Send Me a Postcard‘. Most cheerful of all is ‘Sunny Love Song‘, which sees Bob, now ensconced in freezing Berlin, wondering what the hell he’s done before music & love save the say – “My troubles, they have ended, my sorrows ended too/I should write a sunny love song every day, I will shine so bright on you, so true“. Aww stop it Bob, you’re killing me.
But Bob’s sunny mood doesn’t last long and Sunshine Rock is essentially an album about lost love, lost friends, mortality. The ferocious “Thirty Dozen Roses” sees Bob trying and failing to recover a lost romance (“Olive branches piled up at your door/You don’t let me come inside your place no more“). The melancholy ‘The Final Years‘ and the stripped back, New Order-y ‘Lost Faith‘ are raw, naked self-loathing (“Now I know why everyone has turned away from my despair/I sense I’ve let down friends/All mistakes, all I’ve said/I’ve lost faith in everything, everything, everything“). ‘Sin King‘ is a withering look at the state of Bob’s once-beloved USA (“I know one thing about ya babe, you’re sinking our democracy“). And the pounding, rifftastic ‘I Fought‘ is a look back at his days with Hart (“Every time I sing along with you/Every single word all comes true“).
After all this rage, Sunshine Rock ends on a sweet note with the bouncy, string-laden ‘Western Sunset‘, with Bob thanking his listeners – “Music floats in the sky, then it disappears/So grateful you gave me time to bend your ears/I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel/Only want you to know how I really feel“. You’re welcome Bob, and when the music is as great as it is on Sunshine Rock, the pleasure is really all ours. Right up there with Candy Apple Grey and Beaster as the best record of his career.
Sunshine Rock is out now on Merge.