Guitar album. No matter what precisely that means to you, it’s a tag that describes most of Bob Mould’s recorded output over the past three decades of making music. Few songwriters and players can wrap massive slabs of guitar noise around inherently melodic riffery like Mould has mastered, and his latest, Silver Age—his first rock trio venture since Sugar’s last studio outing in 1994—proves once again (to Mould most importantly, perhaps) that loud/fast guitar songs can still hook like crazy. It is fitting that this new album coincides with the 20th anniversary of Sugar’s seminal ’90s album Copper Blue; Silver Age is its obvious progeny.
For Mould/Sugar fans, “Fortune Teller” is a good reference. For those who have no idea what that means, try the new disc’s “The Descent”: propulsive opening guitar riff backed by equally urgent thwacking drums and pulsing bass lead into four minutes of unflagging energy. Mould is making amends somehow with someone, singing just above the glorious guitar din, “God I hope it’s not too late” and “Can I try to make it up to you somehow?” It’s a taut, breathless sprint from beginning to end. The title track is a similar workout, blasting into action from note one and traversing a cacophony of melody and guitar aggression (Hüsker Dü fans will appreciate this one). For sheer chiming Mould guitar joy, “Keep Believing” is an unrelenting romp, the rhythm section sweating it out to keep pace with rapid-fire notes and chords.
Former Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and Chicagoan Jason Narducy (Split Single, Verbow) make a great team with Mould. The melodic dynamism of Mould’s songs require a certain rhythmic agility—to back off when necessary, push Mould’s guitar and voice when need be, and to ramp up hefty and pugilistic when Mould’s guitar blasts off into absolute adrenaline-land. Album opener “Star Machine” covers much of that musical ground, the tense verses (“So I heard you bought a lousy dream”) interrupted by bursts of pissed-off guitar (“The star machine will hand your ass right back to you”). There are a couple of slightly more mellow cuts on the album: the epic, swirling guitar of “Steam Of Hercules,” featuring some amazing bass work from Narducy, and closer “First Time Joy,” where Mould’s voice is clearest and backed sparingly by drums and even subtle horn figures. But 10 songs in 38 minutes demands a short attention span and lots of economical guitar rock songs. The Silver Age may be showing in Bob Mould’s beard of recent years, but his guitar can still blast most of today’s players off the stage. (Thursday & Friday@Metro.)
– Michael C. Harris
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