When’s a reissue not a reissue? Edsel are doing a batch of Bob Mould/Husker Du/Sugar albums, and when “Silver Age” turned up, I assumed it was part of that package. Listened to it, loved the classic Husker Du sound - then shock, horror, realised it’s actually the man’s latest, so read on…Husker Du were a blazing beacon of powerful music in the 80’s, and it’s always been worth checking out Bob Mould’s solo albums. He’s never been one to stick with a safe formula, his career even taking in scripting WWF ‘wrestling’ scenarios, a sideline as a House DJ, and a diversion into electro/dance sounds at one stage. There’s a whole raft of Bob Mould reissue material coming out around now, like the early-90’s albums he did as Sugar, “Copper Blue”, “F.U.E.L.” and “Beaster”. These albums were huge hits in a period which now looks like a bit of a high water mark of the indie scene. They’re generally cleaner, and with a more melodic, polished sound than the dizzying Husker Du mix of tight fast hardcore with awesome psych/acoustic interludes. Check out trax like “Hoover Dam”, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, “Changes” and “Helpless” to get an idea of the Sugar rush. All three Sugar reissues come with a stack of extras like videos and live action.
However, there’s a part of Bob Mould that’s always Husker Du, and the new album is an absolute stunner and must-hear for anyone who ever rocked their checked shirt to sounds like “Land Speed Record”, “Warehouse” or “Zen Arcade”. It kicks off with “Star Machine”, followed by a breathless sequence of “Silver Age”, “The Descent”, “Briefest Moment” and “Steam of Hercules.” Storming post-hardcore power-trio sounds hit like a knuckleduster, and after a few listens, Bob Mould’s typically sharp lyrics come through strong. Put this on next to any classic Huskers music, and the join is seamless. Highly recommended!
Although he’s pretty much retired these days, Steve Miller was huge in the 70’s and 80’s, and still known for hits like “The Joker” and “Abracadabra“, along with albums like “Fly Like An Eagle” and “Book of Dreams“. These reissues show there was a whole lot of music from the man before then, and define the first phase of his career - “Children of the Future” and “Sailor” (both ‘68), “Brave New World” and “Your Saving Grace” (both ‘69), culminating with “Number 5” (1970). Edsel are very much in the camp of the Good Guys when it comes to reissues, and each album comes in a beautifully reproduced little gatefold sleeve with really nicely illustrated and written info booklets too. “Children” is very much of its time - a swirling suite of mostly gentle. wide-eyed songs. It’s a really nice period piece, but it wears its influences (mainly Beatles) pretty openly. There’s a brief reminder of pre-psychedelia Steve Miller’s blues incarnation in the two tracks that close the album, but to be honest they’re a bit of a bar-band plod after what’s gone before.
There’s a huge leap from there to “Sailor“, a really accomplished album that can stand its ground against a lot of other music from the period. The opening “Song for our Ancestors” still oozes atmosphere with its seagulls and distant foghorns - one of the best ever instrumentals in my honest opinion. There are hard rocking songs like “Living in the USA” and “Overdrive“, tender little trips like “Quicksilver Girl” and “Dear Mary“, and some great cool jive like “Gangster of Love“.
Next album “Brave New World” signalled a step away from psych and blues towards a more radio-friendly rock sound. It should have a “Beware! Short Album!” (29 minutes) sticker on the cover, but it does contain the snappy “Space Cowboy” and “My Dark Hour”, enhanced by the presence of the Beatles’ bassist, and with a riff later adapted for “Fly Like An Eagle”. After that the group were joined by Anglo pianist extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins for the “Your Saving Grace” album - which again shows someone with an ear on FM radio and what was hot. There are harmonies a la Crosby, Stills and Nash, some Stonesy gospel sounds, and quite a lot of bluesy rock. “Number 5” was the most commercially successful of these albums, and it’s a very proficient bit of rock music, but maybe a little too knowingly put together. It also includes the nightmarish “Hot Chili”, a horrible touristy “Down Mexico Way”-type attempt at a mariachi band sound.
Although lumped in with the Airplane/ Dead/ Country Joe/ Quicksilver West Coast scene, the Steve Miller Band were generally less overtly psychedelic than their fellow Frisco bands, but more versatile and rarely distracted by extended jamming and solos. Their reluctance to tour outside California meant they were able to maintain the same mystique as their trippier colleagues. Miller was always a very astute operator in terms of hiring and firing, understanding the importance of writing credits and royalties, and then hitting the jackpot with his combination of choruses based round guitars and synths from the mid-70s. All these albums have their moments, but for me, “Sailor” towers over the others and is the best place to start. Keep an eye out too for “Journey from Eden … Recall the Beginning“, a real return to form in 1972, and due for re-release next year.
Bo Diddley’s one of those people whose sound you can recognise at 100 yards - that chunka-chunka rhythmic undertow, the percussive swirl and shimmer of cigar-box guitar, the insistent rattle of the maracas and of course the inimitable growl of the man himself. Anyway, it’s all here - over fifty tracks spread over two discs, with all the classics like “Mona“, “Who Do You Love?”, “Road Runner“, “Pills” and any number of songs incorporating The Man‘s name, just so you don‘t think you‘re listening to Chuck Berry, right? “Hey Bo Diddley“ still has all the mesmeric power that hit me when I first heard it as a kid, and realised that his music got to places the Stones could only dream of. Realising he was on to a winner Bo Diddley made sure just about anything he recorded was imbued with that trademark sound. That’s the blessing and weakness of this collection - the Bo Diddley Beat is a thing of timeless wonder, and individually just about every track is a winner, but listened to all together is rather like eating twenty Mars bars in a row. Still, the Man’s been a massive influence for the last fifty years - without him there’s no Stones, no Cramps - all together now: “I walked forty-seven miles of barbed wire/ Used a cobra snake for a neck-tie…”
It seems like only the other day that I was reviewing The Jam “The Gift” reissue in all its abundant extra-track glory. This box-set takes the opposite approach, and none the worse for that, so we get all six Jam studio albums together in one budget package, with individual replica sleeves. Okay, there’s nothing new here, and all this music has been available before, but as far as I’m concerned, if we’re going to have reissues there’s room for the “Original Artist Series” approach as well as the in-depth Sugar or “The Gift” style. It’s a good way to catch up or replace casualties in your collection - apart from this set, I’ve been getting deep back into Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley, Spirit, Warren Zevon and the Cure this way. There really isn’t much more to say about a series of albums that show the rapid growth and transit of the group from the Who-isms of the first few albums, through the paisley-shirted/”Revolver” vibe of “Setting Sons“ and “Sound Affects“, and on to “The Gift”, with its more soulful grooves and hints of what was to come. Six albums in five years, and not a single dud - they don’t make ‘em like that any more.
Well, I guess that’s all for this year - it’s the time for annual “Best of’s”, so I’m going for best new album, “One Day I’m Going To Soar” by Dexy’s; best reissue Can “The Lost Tapes”, and group of the year Pussy Riot. Mayan Prophecies permitting, have a great time and see you all next year. - Den Browne