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REVIEW: The Walkmen - Heaven

REVIEW: Sugar - Copper Blue and Beaster

By: Jeff Daily
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July 25, 2012

Bob Mould is one of the greats. Transcending the amphetamine hardcore uber-genius punk backstory of Husker Du seemed like an impossible mountain to climb when he formed an amazing trio called Sugar in 1992. With David Barbe (bass) and Malcolm Travis (drums), Mould somehow crafted a stone-cold classic album with 1992's Copper Blue. The rise of the "alternative nation" coincided nicely with Sugar's pop-based loud melodic American rock music and now both Copper Blue and an EP of songs recorded during CB's session titled Beaster (from 1993) are being reissued by Merge Records. Copper Blue and Beaster are combined into a three-CD or double vinyl set, including B-sides and a full 1992 live show from the Metro in Chicago.

Mould sings the songs of a pissed off, soul searching man in his early thirties on Copper Blue. In Mould's recent memoir, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, he openly and honestly discusses the demons and trials of his life surrounding not just his musical self, but his behind the volume personal side as well. The forthrightness in Mould's lyrics (and book) is like that of John Lennon. He's somebody whose primal scream also makes for kick ass music.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mould perform the entirety of Copper Blue at this year's SXSW. The raging performance remains one of the all-time great shows. Witnessing these songs live is powerful. There's not a wasted second on the album from the opening "The Act We Act" to the closing "Man on the Moon." Mould and Sugar are blazing. The synth touches on "Hoover Dam" only add beauty to the electric furry and the acoustic based "hit" "If I Can't Change Your Mind" ranks up there with the gold standard of Husker Du jams like "Makes No Sense at All" or "Celebration Summer." The guitars are spot on Mould wall of sound distortion, but within all the fuzz (like that of later Husker albums post-Zen Arcade) there are beautiful melodies and harmonic innovations. Mould said something once in an interview about liking the music of The Monkees and Jimmy Webb, well that is exactly right, because he's always been a pop/rock based verse & chorus writer. He just happened to come of age after The Ramones blasted the roof off the fucking decrepit building that rock n roll was in the mid-70s. So Sugar carried on the work of Husker Du, creating a sound similar to what became the early 90s grunge era, but apart from the junkie metal vibe and closer to that of pop songwriting. Mould's not a poet, but he is a lyricist of empathy and emotive power that few can match.

Leaving behind the pop elements of their sound, Sugar released an EP of Copper Blue outtakes called Beaster in 1993. If "heaviosity" were a legit word, Sugar's EP would be a stunning example. This is brutal music. You may ask yourself, "how can one man live with this kind of pain?" Well, the answer is crank the amps and roar! The middle set of tunes from "Titled" to "Judas Cradle" to "JC Auto" (which stands for "Jesus Christ Autobiography") makes me wonder what the hell kind of religious turmoil was prowling Mould's mind...actually, I DON'T WANT TO KNOW! "Judas Cradle" erupts from the feedback laced ending of "Titled" with such venom that I'm a little scared of the combative mania. Anger. Fuck...this is as hardcore as any early Husker recording, but ten times as personal and single-minded. I feel battered by the guitars and not a little tired from the pummeling. "Feeling Better" is a song I have to answer as if it were asked to me as a question...having screamed along, I guess I do feel a bit better, exhausted, but better.

The B-Sides and live show on this reissue are excellent as well. Seems Mr. Mould, Barbe, and Travis were on fire during these sessions. Not a bad song or performance here. GODDAMN! "Needle Hits E" is like The Byrds had their music put through the SST grind and "Try Again" has big sweeping Pete Townshend acoustic chords and noise bubbles squealing under the drama, which points nicely to Sugar's eventual covering of The Who's "Armenia City in the Sky." "Sky" being a somewhat obscure pre-Tommy Who gem of the psychedelic era, here part of the live disc, and a total blowout success.

Bottom line: BUY THESE RECORDS! I can't think of too many albums from the early 90s that are as essential or a songwriter with as many great songs as Bob Mould.

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