From 1983 to 1987 Husker Du released six studio albums, two of them double albums. That’s a consistency to match The Beatles. The band did not hang around.
Husker Du’s 5th studio album Candy Apple Grey was clearly attempting to appeal to a wider market. This paralleled the band signing to Warner Brothers.
I was lucky enough to see Husker Du on their Candy Apple Grey tour. I’d previously seen a handful of bands play live. The Smiths. Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The Damned – plus a smattering of others.
What Husker Du did when I saw them way back in ’86 was take away the sheen and remove the stage theatrics of previous bands I’d seen live. At The Powerhouse in Birmingham they just played with a light bulb illuminating them. The music took centre stage. A bulldozer of sound came out of the Minneapolis three.
Music was never the same for me again. I’ve said / written it before on this blog – but the band are so important on the alternative scene, so influential and groundbreaking.
It’s not just hardcore punk. The band have deep musical sensibilities and dynamics that do make them the alternative Beatles. The music grows and develops through their 6 studio albums in ways few bands could ever compete.
Beyond this the band really did pave the way for The Pixies, Nirvana, et al. Taking a post punk sound totally via the hardcore scene and coming out victorious with a more mellow sound (but without wide credit).
I have always looked sideways at R.E.M. Despite them clearly having some strong material and thought to myself “that should have been Husker Du”. Warners threw money at both bands, R.E.M. went global, Husker Du imploded – but hey – underdog is King.
Zen Arcade is one of the most important albums I will ever hear. It pulls the listener in with accesible sounds on Side 1 before twisting into a dark corner on the furious brewing Side 2. It then shakes the whole brew up on Side 3 before delivering sounds that could been see as the birth of Thrash on Side 4. It’s the best hardcore album ever yet contains a few tracks your Mum should like – as I said – Hardcore Beatles.
New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig sit so close together both in timescale and sound that they both develop the ultimate blueprint Zen Arcade is. The band become more accesible with each album. It’s a natural development during their time signed to SST.
Warners, for me, made the band jump too much. Candy Apple Grey, despite being a fantastic album attempts to crossover too much. The band just aren’t ready for an attempt at global domination. Maybe I’m being too cynical and Warners put no pressure on them at all but it must have been in Mould, Hart’s & Notron’s subconsciousness?
Husker Du were to bow out in 1987. Amid narcotic disagreements and personal divide they split after Warehouse : Songs and Stories. Make no mistake – correcting Candy Apple Grey’s mistakes – they went out in style.
I saw Husker Du for a 2nd and final time at Glastonbury ’87. I’m pretty damn sure they played Warehouse in its entirety – in chronological order too on that afternoon. It would be their last live performance in the U.K.
Warehouse is practically a battle of songwriting between Bob Mould and Grant Hart. The acrimony is clear – only the listener wins as the band fall apart on their glorious swan song. Damn, I wish they’d hung around longer.
Theses Important Years Of Life (Mould) kicks off Warehouse. A charming blisterpop rattle that already ups the bar on most of the Candy Apple Grey offerings.
Charity, Chastity, Prudence And Hope (Hart) raises the bar immediately. A more upbeat driven sound. Lush bells in the background. A winner.
Standing In The Rain (Mould) is sharper still. Buzzing guitar match the plod-joyous-plod as the track bounces along. A darker R.E.M. are again nodded at yet I’m not sure which band own this sound.
Back From Somewhere (Hart) intros with scorching but distant guitar strains. Hart’s vocal delivers with vivid imagery then rises before the tracks swirls and slows to a more compelling deeper questioning drive.
Ice Cold Ice (Mould) is just spellbinding. A post hardcore indie ACDC riff at us. The guitar then throws that Husker swirl and buzz at us. The vocals compliment each other so well you’d never had thought the band were at loggerheads. The post punk Lennon / McCartney is further cemented. Devilish sparse guitar streaks and then distant but pounding drums and vocals as it fades. It’s fucking fantastic.
You’re A Soldier (Hart) has a similar but slower drive to New Day Rising. The band nod to their former sound yet pull it into a mass appeal area – not that anyone noticed. Take heed.
Could You Be The One (Mould) is a clear single. It takes the whole sound and wraps it together in a neat package for the charts, again a flop of a single release that defies belief.
Too Much Spice (Hart) then only goes and raises the bar even higher. A catchy track that reeks of rock n’ roll. It’s a nod to bands pre Husker Du in its delivery before really throwing some blistering Husker Du guitar licks. An ode about too much experimentation – it doesn’t preach – it’s just there and it’s fantastically delivered.
Friend You’ve Got To Fall (Mould) is Mould by numbers – that’s not a dig. A solid album track. Visionary (Mould) is sharper and more urgent that the previous track. Somehow the two Mould numbers work as two opposites rather than one.
She Floated Away (Hart) is soft and dreamy. Echoes of death and escape before the track ups rises – it lulls again and jangles with ambiguous beauty.
Bed Of Nails (Mould) is a precursor to his solo material. Bleak. Honest. Dark.
Tell You Why Tomorrow showcases why Grant Hart is amongst my favourite songwriters of all time. Earnest. Beautifully doom-laden yet somehow looking for hope. Despite it’s overall muted sound the music soars and shines somehow.
It’s Not Peculiar (Mould) has a very Candy Apple Grey sound. An ambling verse and stuttering chorus. The two songwriters despite clearly battling accompany on each others songs in nothing but earnest unifying strength.
More rock n roll vibes for Actual Condition (Hart). A sixties sound is pulled through a late 80’s Husker Du blender. You almost jive listening to it.
No Reservations (Mould) offers shades of the Flip Your Wig era. The sound is more polished the band have matured fully and glance sideways at their former selves again.
Turn It Around (Mould) does sound like a Grant Hart track – the two song writing styles can be miles apart and at times so close you can barely separate them. The dual vocal blends. The guitar pulls away only to raise the vibe higher. Dreamy muted Beatles like guitar pattens. A lovely sound. A great band.
She’s A Woman (and Now He Is A Man) (Hart) takes the gauntlet of the preceding track. As an assured sound of ambling as you could wish to hear. Controlled yet somehow burningly frantic.
Up In The Air (Mould) does give the feeling of floating. The backing vocal lifts as the harmonies crossover. With a very solid production the buzz the band do so well has never sounded lighter yet more poignant.
Husker Du then leave us with one of the best album closers I’ve ever heard.
You Can Live At Home (Hart) is driven from the off. Pounding. The track throws dreamscapes our way. You Can Live At Home builds like few tracks do. It’s like the band sense their ending in that building sound. Two full minutes of building blocks rising to a bridge / power chord where Bob Mould seemingly wrestles the best track off Warehouse away from Hart. Neck hairs pop up. goosebumps streak arms. Hart does not fade – the band gel in a totally defining moment. Peace seemingly breaks out as the music seriously scorches. Like a warm gush of hot air you’re just left to bask in the bands final moment. It washes over you. Waves and waves of it. Frantic distant guitar chases every sound – no instrument now dominates – only bliss ensues. Forget “I Am The Resurrection” – this is the band we needed for the second coming…