Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey.

In March, 1986 Husker Du released their first album for a major label, Warner Brothers. From my observations Warner Brothers are the major label that allow a lot of artistic freedom and often take a chance on the unexpected. The Rolls-Royce of record labels maybe, but there’s a wicked streak in their gambling and standing by artists that deserves respect in an industry largely populated by chancers and exploitation on many levels. Warner Brothers wanted to release the previous Husker Du album Flip Your Wig which would have worked better in terms of commercial success – but the band stuck with the hardcore label SST who incidentally couldn’t press enough copies to keep up with demand. Simple mistakes reshape so many things.

Candy Apple Grey was a commercial failure and peaked at Number 140 in the album  charts. It’s actually hard to write that as I caught Husker Du on the accompanying tour as a wide-eyed school kid that had seen three of four gigs previously. A performance so raw, emotional and driven that, along with a few Ramones albums was inspiration enough to get in a band myself as soon as possible. No dry ice, no strobe lasers, nothing – just a live performance that leaves one thinking “Wow – this is MUSIC”.

Whilst Husker Du contemplated their commercial crossover perhaps too much Warner Brothers, practically at the same time signed R.E.M and it is here where time allows the perspective of what could have been for Husker Du. Looking back Husker Du were so influential. They are unsung heros of alternative – yet accessible music. A simple quote from Krist Novoselic saying “Nirvana’s music was nothing new, Husker Du did it before us” makes one think what really could have been for this Minneapolis trio. R.E.M. rocketed and sold millions, but hey, a wise man always knows underdog can be King?

Arguably Candy Apple Grey was poorly marketed and produced. It is not the best Husker Du album by some lengthy distance. However it does find Grant Hart in fine songwriting form. The difference, for me is Bob Mould is not writing to the level he had previously. Quibbles. Husker Du are still a great band. If Warners had signed them for Flip Your Wig the whole history of ‘alternative music’ may read and sound very different to what it does. Who knows eh?

The downbeat vibe of heartbreak from Mould that reflects in his penned songs on Candy Apple Grey are too much for the big league and whilst they are beautiful – they are a difficult listen. For a breakthough the album needed the daft ambiguity of Nevermind or Green. It really did.

All this said, had Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely or Dead Set On Destruction (both Grant Hart songs) benefitted from punchier production – or the album been trimmed to an E.P. like Metal Circus, the wider picture could have had so much more scope. Like I suggested, simple mistakes shape so many things and of course with hindsight things are much clearer.

Husker Du over thought their reach for the stars and when their chance came they were not really in the right gear. A simple mistake to make and arguably a missed opportunity. A flawed album that still deserves ones time with some real quality moments…

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Well, I’m standing in the queue
And I can’t stand any more missing you
And I can’t stand the pain
And I can’t get home ’cause of a hurricane
Dead set on destruction
Dead set on destruction
There’s no flights home today
And no services out on the motorway
And I can’t leave the ground
And I can’t find a place now to put her down
Dead set on destruction
Dead set on destruction
The Atlantic winds are high
There’s only one virgin and she don’t fly
And they can’t land the plane
And they can’t get home ’cause of a hurricane
Dead set on destruction
Dead set on destruction
Dead set on destruction
Dead set on destruction

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