Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Where To Start With... Husker Du

KRIST NOVOSELIC once said Nirvana’s blend of pop, punk and metal was “nothing new, Husker Du did it before us.” A trio from Minneapolis, featuring singer/guitarist Bob Mould, singing drummer Grant Hart and moustachioed bassist Greg Norton, Husker Du started out the fastest punks on the block, mellowing their pace but not their intensity for a faultless run of albums on the influential SST label. Perfecting a marriage of melodic thrash and emotionally complex lyrics, they were one of the first hardcore bands to ‘cross over’ to a Major Label, releasing two fine albums with Warner Bros, before tensions between Hart and Mould – hardcore’s own Lennon & McCartney – tore the band apart in 1988 (the suicide of manager David Savoy, and Hart’s escalating heroin addiction, were key factors). Mould would later enjoy success with his grunge-pop trio Sugar, and as a solo artist with an interest in electronica, while Hart formed the ill-fated Nova Mob, and intermittently pursues a solo career. Norton, meanwhile, is now a chef running a successful restaurant in Minnesota.

I HEART HUSKER DU

MATT DAVIES, FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND

“I always read interviews to find out what my favourites bands’ influences are, and Husker Du were always a name I’d heard being thrown around in circles. They influenced a lot of the groups I loved when I first got into them, like Jawbreaker – that post-punk sound, verging on aggressive, but balanced it with great melodies and complex parts. It’s almost ‘thinking man’s punk’; it wasn’t just abrasive, it was very cathartic, as well as being very passionate. I took a chance on ‘Candy Apple Grey’ in a record store one day – it was nice and cheap! That’s their first album for a major label. It took me a while to ‘get it’ – because I’d been into Bob Mould’s band Sugar before, and they were a lot more melodic than Husker Du. It took a while to adjust to that fiery sound. Then I got ‘New Day Rising’, which is my favourite – I have a New Day Rising tee-shirt which I tracked down in Boston when we toured there.

“I think Bob Mould was my favourite Du songwriter – I was such a huge fan of Sugar, and his method of songwriting – capturing the sense of a moment, making you feel like you were actually there, to make you feel as angry or as down as he was feeling. Husker Du made me realise that there’s more to punk rock than just sheeny-shiny production and uber-wicked backing vocals. Don’t get me wrong – I love Bad Religion to death, but it was nice to get an alternative to that.”

ESSENTIAL PURCHASE

‘ZEN ARCADE

(SST, 1984)

RECORDED IN 40 hours, this ambitious double-album chronicled a homeless punk kid’s descent into madness, leaving his broken home for the refuge of the streets, and its junkies and hookers. Encompassing nosebleed hardcore, acoustic strum, psychedelic pop and 15 minute jazz-mantra improvs, this dark, psychologically-scarred album won the mostly-overlooked hardcore genre a new respect in the mainstream.

FOLLOW-UP PURCHASE

‘NEW DAY RISING’

(SST, 1985)

FIRST OF two pop albums they released in 1985, ‘New Day Rising’ captures a band on fire and perfecting their sound, sunshine melodies gleaming behind the scouring guitars and serrated vocals. The Beatles-esque ‘Books About UFOs’ and the whimsical ‘Celebrated Summer’ were highlights, mature songcraft signalling the group’s move away from hardcore’s tunnel-vision, coining a template Nirvana would ride to success.

ALSO RECOMMENDED

‘WAREHOUSE: SONGS AND STORIES’

THEIR FINAL album was another double, twenty crushed diamonds of punk-pop poetry drawn from the roaring guitars and heart-attack drums. They never sounded more melodic, more accessible, but the darker lyrical content spoke the truth: the band were already done, Hart’s psychotic, groove-driven closer ‘You Can Live At Home Now’ a fierce farewell note to Husker Du.

WILD CARD

‘LAND SPEED RECORD’

(New Alliance, 1981)

17 SONGS in 26 minutes, this live set rushed past at fierce velocity, a whirlwind of napalm-spitting fretboard runs. The gonzoid thrash of ‘Bricklayer’ – 2 verses, 2 choruses and a guitar solo in 53 seconds – is a highlight, but this molten mess of frantic riffage is best experienced as a whole, remaining one of the most extreme statements of the hardcore genre.

AVOID

‘EVERYTHING FALLS APART’

(New Alliance, 1982)

WHERE EARLY Huskers’ hardcore flared furiously on Land Speed Record, it sputtered in the studio. Warners’ later CD reissue adds awesome early single ‘In A Free Land’ and the anthemic ‘Do You Remember?’ (the title translating their band name, taken from a Swedish boardgame), but the album itself is frustratingly limp, save for the angsty power-pop of the title track.

BURN THESE: THE ULTIMATE HUSKER DU MIX CD

‘IN A FREE LAND’

OLD SKOOL guitar heroics abound in this melodic, hard-riffing rant, evidence of Husker Du’s short-lived period as politicised punks.

FIND IT: ‘Everything Falls Apart & More’, 1993

‘BIG SKY’

OF ALL Land Speed Record’s lightning-strike whirlwinds, Big Sky punched hardest, its riffs like fighter-jets screeching into the ground.

FIND IT: ‘Land Speed Record’, 1981

‘IT’S NOT FUNNY ANYMORE’

THERAPY? COVERED this EP’s rape/murder fantasy ‘Diane’, but the chiming pop melodies and whip-smart lyrics made this the highlight.

FIND IT: ‘Metal Circus’, 1983

‘NEVER TALKING TO YOU AGAIN’

BITTER FAREWELL-letter to abusive parents, set to heart-broken acoustic strum. Huskers’ growing maturity and ambition inspired the hardcore community.

FIND IT: ‘Zen Arcade’, 1984

‘PRIDE’

SIDE TWO of ‘Zen Arcade’ was a furious, unbroken rush of bloodthirsty thrash, ‘Pride’ the most venomous, Mould’s self-lacerating vocal shredding the speakers.

FIND IT: ‘Zen Arcade’, 1984

‘PINK TURNS TO BLUE’

‘ZEN ARCADE’’s nameless hero discovers his junkie girlfriend’s corpse, to the tear-stained strains of Grant Hart’s psyche-pop lament. A career highlight.

FIND IT: ‘Zen Arcade’, 1984

‘WHATEVER’

THE PUNK kid explains his secret life to his parents, perhaps a veiled reference to Mould’s own (then-secret) homosexuality.

FIND IT: ‘Zen Arcade’, 1984

‘EIGHT MILES HIGH’

DOUSING THE Byrds’ psychedelic classic in kerosene, this 7” almost buckled under the weight of Mould’s gut-wrenching howls and lacerating fretboard runs.

FIND IT: ‘Eight Miles High’, 1984

‘CELEBRATED SUMMER’

A LUMP-IN-THROAT farewell to adolescence, Mould’s startlingly mature, poignant lyric is well matched by the sort of melodicism Get Up Kids would later explore.

FIND IT: ‘New Day Rising’, 1985

’59 TIMES THE PAIN’

FRACTURED, ODDBALL, this brooding hurricane of anguish posited Mould as his generation’s insightful bard of dysfunction and disaffection.

FIND IT: ‘New Day Rising’, 1985

‘BOOKS ABOUT UFOS’

HART’S BUDDY Holly-esque croon perfectly matches the giddy pianos and frazzled guitars on this light-hearted love song – perfect Summer mixtape music.

FIND IT: ‘New Day Rising’, 1985

‘MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL’

MOULD CALLS the emperor out as naked in this phosphorent jangle-driven thrash, mid-period Du’s apotheosis.

FIND IT: ‘Flip Your Wig’, 1985

‘DON’T WANT TO KNOW IF YOU ARE LONELY’

HART’S UNFLINCHING analysis of the aftermath of a broken relationship evidenced the maturity and intensity of Warners-era Du.

FIND IT: ‘Candy Apple Grey’, 1986

‘TOO FAR DOWN’

MOULD’S SUICIDAL confession is breath-taking in its honesty and darkness; accompanied by brittle acoustic, he sounds bereft.

FIND IT: ‘Candy Apple Grey’, 1986

‘HARDLY GETTING OVER IT’

FEW PUNK bands would dare record such sombre musings upon mortality; Husker Du had the balls, and the skill to make it darkly electrifying.

FIND IT: ‘Candy Apple Grey’, 1986

‘FRIEND, YOU’VE GOT TO FALL’

A NEON psyche-pop riff accelerated Mould’s account of a friend living too fast – Hart, perhaps – into a savage grunge-pop classic.

FIND IT: ‘Warehouse: Songs & Stories’, 1987

‘ACTUAL CONDITION’

HART AFFECTS a rockabilly holler for his haywire country-punk response, a perversely-upbeat admission of emotional deterioration.

FIND IT: ‘Warehouse: Songs & Stories’, 1987

‘NO RESERVATIONS’

MOODY PROTO-EMO scores Mould’s philosophical admission of defeat – or, at least, acceptance that his future lies elsewhere.

FIND IT: ‘Warehouse: Songs & Stories’, 1987

‘VISIONARY’

CRUNCHING METALLIC riffage and multi-tracked harmonies glimpse at the direction Mould’s post-Du group Sugar will take.

FIND IT: ‘Warehouse: Songs & Stories’, 1987

‘KEEP HANGING ON’

RECORDED ON their final tour, Hart’s optimistic ‘Flip Your Wig’ anthem is recast as anguished last-ditch attempt as reconciliation.

FIND IT: ‘The Living End’, 1993

(c) Stevie Chick 2006

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