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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Bob Mould

eclectic reviews and opinions

Bob Mould

Bob Mould


(Rykodisc, 1996)

So Bob Mould played every note and produced the whole record -- he even has a co-credit for the artwork. Regular readers won't be surprised to hear that I would have preferred a real drummer, but Mould's singing is as impassioned as ever, and he unveils a whole new breed of stinging guitar skronk on the single "Egøverride" and "Hair Stew;" it's hardly a sterile-sounding affair.

I've thought since Mould traded Hüsker Dü in for Sugar that he's a better songwriter when he has another writer around to challenge and push him, or maybe even just another artistic voice to break up the record, but this disc has some lyrics that are on par with anything else he's done -- especially "Hair Stew", and a few classic Mould melodies, like the exuberant "Deep Karma Canyon," which could almost have been on one of the classic SST-era Hüsker albums like Flip Your Wig.

Maybe that's part of why the record doesn't satisfy me as a whole -- the lyric themes and musical approach are certainly not radical departures from things that Mould has done before, and somehow it feels just a little like coasting. Only a little, though, and Mould at this point has a commendable history of shaking himself up every few years, so I'm certainly not writing him off -- but if I were only going to take one of his records to a desert island, or pick one to introduce him to someone with, this wouldn't be it.

It's probably worth mentioning, though, that this does offer a better balance between Bob in loud-rocker-mode and Bob in introspective-acoustic mode (well, really, he's introspective in both modes, but you know what I mean, I hope) than any other single recording.

Mould has a well-deserved reputation for releasing some of the most consistently non-throwaway b-sides in the industry -- in fact there are those who argue that the Sugar's compilation Besides was the best single release from that band. This single is no exception, with one more loud and quiet song each, plus "Doubleface" which sounds like it was cut together from several takes, some electric and some acoustic. I find it a little distracting to listen to the whole thing, but you can listen to just the first half of it, in which case you can leave it in the "loud" category.

Bob Mould (with Rasputina)

10 October 1996

9:30 Club, Washington, DC

Are Rasputina so gimmicky that they transcend gimmickry? I'm so tired of seeing the standard press-flack summary: Three women who all play the cello and wear Victorian undergarments on stage. (Drummer Norman Block is not similarly constrained.) The question I ask is, "is the gimmick the product of a unique and interesting artistic sensibility, or is the gimmick just a gimmick?" And I think I'll go, guardedly, with the former. Between almost every song, Melora Craeger, who writes all the original material and is the sole vocalist, emitted brief, odd, monotone stream-of-consciousness styled monologues-cum-song-introductions which seemed vaguely deprecatory of the likes of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and No Doubt vocalist Gwen Stefani. I liked these much better than the cello-backed spoken word bits sprinkled throughout the Thanks for the Ether record, which begin to annoy after repeated playing.

It was fun to watch them play, too. Craeger tends to play most of the bass parts, but there's a fair amount of complexity to the arrangements and the musicians frequently trade off playing of the part that carries most of the melody at the moment -- they double parts only rarely, for emphasis, and I don't think they were ever all playing the same thing at the same time. Craeger also sings well -- she has a nice voice and it sounds like she's had some actual vocal training. I spent a couple hours trying to figure out who she reminded me of vocally and finally realized it was Jarboe from the Swans.

As managed before, the songs have considerably harmonic and melodic interest, though they aren't, for the most part, catchy or hummable in conventional ways (that's no slam!) and the lyrics are consistently interesting, as in "Dig Ophelia":

Dig Ophelia, consider it dug
Flowers madness and polar bear rug
Here's the water, just ankle deep high
Lay back relax and look at the sky
Your eyes never close, your mind's not at rest
Lay back, get waterlogged
Give us a kiss

or "Trust All-Stars," an off-kilter number about an extraterrestrial and untrustworthy, significant other:

You're not the boy that you say you are
You come from outerspace, you drive a rental car
Thanks, but no thanks just the same
Time was when this became obvious
Your eyes were never clear, you did not eat enough
Strangely afraid of the rain

as well as showing a welcome sense of humor, as in the phonetic spelling that accompanies "Sister Sleep:"

We lee-ike to smoke pohot.
We lee-ike it a lohot.
Owower smeall eyes are tee-arharering
fower what we have nohot.

This tour finds Bob Mould alone on stage with a guitar. (Electric for the first encore (of two) and acoustic the rest of the time.) He played a thoroughly career-spanning set, reaching back as far as 1984's Zen Arcade for a searing "Chartered Trips" and a pair from follow-up New Day Rising. He played a bunch of Sugar-era material and a trio of songs from his first solo album, Workbook, and a few from his new, self-titled record. Mould is a passionate, intense, singer, and although the solo format gives him little opportunity to show off his skills as a guitar soloist, his rhythmic, percussive attack suits his vocal delivery very well, and made it hard to believe that his strings had survived from a previous show in Pittsburgh, as he said they had. Mould wasn't terribly talkative -- he had a few campaign- related jabs, but mostly he just played. I don't think anyone was complaining though, because there were plenty of moments where the man's voice, music and words combined to create something truly compelling. When he took up the electric guitar I found myself wishing now and then that he had the likes of Malcom Travis or Grant Hart to punctuate the roar, but the rest of the time nothing at all seemed to be missing. (And it must be said, Mould solo has more dynamic range than with his bands, which were so consistently loud that they sometimes bordered on undifferentiated.)


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