Thursday, April 9, 2009

Husker Du - "New Day Rising" (LP Review)

Having already reviewed "Flip Your Wig", it's only right to return to Husker Du's "New Day Rising". NDR was released in early 1985 and FYW was released in late 1985. Most bands can go their whole career and never produce an LP of the caliber of NDR or FYW; for Husker Du to release two such LPs in less than a year is remarkable.

As discussed in the FYW review, NDR finds the band in transition from strictly hardcore punk to punk tempered with conventional pop music structure. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it really just means there are strong vocal hooks to go with their blistering sound. This ain't Gap Punk...

After reading the FYW review, Danette observed that I had not really dealt with the musicians themselves. Husker Du was a trio, consisting of guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton and drummer Grant Hart. Mould and Hart were the principal songwriters. They occasionally collaborated, but most of the songs are individually written with Hart's contributions slowing increasing with each LP. Like any good songwriting tandem (e.g., Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards), there was a great deal of friction and competition between Mould and Hart and it (exacerbated by substance abuse) would eventually split up the band. While Mould would go on to have a successful post-Husker Du career (both as a solo artist and in Sugar), Hart's output is more limited (solo and as Nova Mob). Norton apparently left the music industry altogether. But neither Mould nor Hart have since equaled their banner year of 1985.

While I consider FYW to be a slightly better LP than NDR, I would also argue that NDR has better individual songs, even if they don't form the cohesive unit that FYW does listening from start to finish. Whereas FYW has "Makes No Sense At All", NDR has the title track "New Day Rising", "I Apologize", "Folk Lore", "Celebrated Summer" and "59 Times the Pain" that are all nearly as good as "Makes No Sense At All". The title track proves that it is possible to write an amazing song whose lyrics consist of simply repeating three words: "new day rising..." Listen to it and you'll be hooked.

But why I give FYW the nod over NDR is because tracks like "Perfect Example", "Powerline" and "How To Skin A Cat" are easily forgettable. The latter is punk/psychedelic noodling (in comparison, "Plans I Make" or the "Dreams Reoccurring"/"Reoccurring Dreams" pair from Zen Arcade are better examples of the sound they were after). The former two songs are not really bad, but they're not really good either. They're just there.

Random observation #1: The LP cover art surely has to be in the top 10 of all time. The cover captures the feel of the songs in a way I can't put in words.

Random observation #2: Yes, they have modish heavy metal umlauts over the "u"s in their name. They formed in 1979 and that's just how things were done then. The board game from which they took their name has macrons instead of umlauts.

Standout Tracks: "New Day Rising", "I Apologize", "Folk Lore", "Celebrated Summer", "59 Times the Pain", "Books About UFOs"; the full LP in a single video.

Skip 'em Tracks: "Perfect Example", "Powerline" and "How To Skin A Cat"

Final Score: 10/10. I thought about giving them a 9/10 because of the three weakest tracks, but the strength of the other tracks makes up for those three.

P.S. YouTube user SUICIDEVOM has uploaded a "New Day Rising"-era concert in seven parts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. The sound quality is good and it is well worth checking out.

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