With District Line, Bob Mould continues his personal music evolution.
For a while there, it seemed like the Bob Mould everyone knew was gone for good. Not only had the former Hüsker Dü/Sugar singer more or less sworn off electric guitar, he increasingly gravitated to club music, an interest that manifested itself in his Blowoff project and on 2002’s poorly received Modulate. At a Park West show shortly thereafter, this writer overheard a lifelong fan politely tell the man at the merchandise table that he planned never to see Mould perform again.
Then came 2005’s Body of Song, an album welcomed as a return to form and followed by Mould’s first full band tour in years. Once again, all seemed right in the guitar-rock universe, and indeed Mould’s new album, District Line, is much in line with its crowd-pleasing predecessor. In fact, as befalls just about every artist of a certain vintage and prestige—from Paul McCartney on down—the disc is, again, being hailed as a return to form (even by Mould’s new label, Anti-).
Which begs the question: How many returns to form can a musician have?
Mould sighs. “I went round with Anti- about that,” he explains. “I said that in ’05 they sort of used that [phrase] against my wishes. To me, Body of Song was an integration of the electronic style I was experimenting with on Modulate with a handful of acoustic songs I had written. In hindsight it was a bit of a scattered record, but it was a lot stronger effort than Modulate.
“District Line,” Mould’s unflinchingly honest assessment continues, “is a record that was composed almost entirely on guitar, and any electronic treatments that happened were more production-oriented than composition-oriented. That’s the continuation of what started with Body of Song. I looked at that record, and I saw the things that I thought worked and were different from things I had done before and kept those things in mind, favorably.”
Besides, saying Mould has “returned to form” immediately raises a number of other questions, foremost among them: Which form? After all, Hüsker Dü’s first album, 1981’s Land Speed Record was totally different from its final record, 1987’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories. Mould’s first solo album, 1989’s Workbook, was a departure from the first Sugar record, Copper Blue. Is there even such as thing as a typical Mould record?
“I guess that’s the result of having so many of them!” Mould says with a laugh. “There’s sort of a traditional sound I have. It’s singer/songwriter playing mostly electric guitar, writing linear songs that are fairly catchy, and fairly emotionally introspective.” He chuckles. “Is that fair? Anything that goes too far off of that is a challenge for [some fans]. Then there are the fans that unconditionally listen to what I do. Having said that, one of the things I’ve been curious about, reading comments about this record, is that there seems to be this group of people for whom I’m damned if I do anything. That if I’m not doing free jazz, I’m not progressing.”
In fact, Mould has some of the most doggedly dedicated fans in rock, from lifers who have stuck with him since the Hüsker Dü days through folks turned on by Workbook and 1992’s Copper Blue (the two albums Mould cites as still being responsible for the bulk of his following). On the one hand, having that built-in audience is a gift. On the other, it raises expectations even if Mould doesn’t feel particularly beholden to what anyone expects.
“The challenge to me is to write a good song that I like,” he declares matter of factly. “All the other stuff, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can lobby my case or explain my position, and if someone doesn’t like it, maybe they’ll give it another look after they hear what I have to say. Maybe they’ve already dismissed it and moved on. Or maybe they’ll just go back and listen to Workbook. There’s a lot of music out there, and if I’m not in someone’s record collection, that’s cool. That wasn’t the intent when I started.”
“Look,” he adds, “when I sit down to write songs, I sit down to write songs that I like to listen to in the car when I’m driving to the beach. I write songs that I want to listen to when I’m walking down the street and I’ve got my headphones on. I write songs because I need to have music around.”
Mould plays an early show at Metro Friday 7.