Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin

“Coming to terms” is something of an omnipresent and tiresome trope of middle age. Sure, as we get older we realize we’re not gonna live forever; that we (well, most of us) were in fact pretty good looking when we were young, that we’re never gonna be pretty again, that life is not so pretty, and that it’s pretty sure that few (if any) of our hopes and dreams will be realized. Life pretty much sucks and then you die.

Bob Mould has danced variations of the “Coming to terms” rhumba ever since the demise of Husker Du. Unfortunately, what he’s been coming to terms with is the gravity of his own work and the onus of several near perfect albums with Sugar and (especially) Husker Du. For Bob, having made a handful of excellent loud guitar albums fusing hardcore sturm und drang with Byrds power pop was a such a heavy cross to bear that he decided, for a while, to go into acoustic music – and later even into disco – or some approximation of it. Mould’s 1989 solo debut, the largely acoustic Workbook, is totally overrated. And remember the tub-thumping disco opus, Modulate?  I hope not.

Anyway, Bob’s been back to making electric guitar based music for quite a while now. And these days he seems quite comfortable assuming the mantle of punk elder statesman and gay icon. Why, Bob has gone so far as to revisit the Husker Du oeuvre in his live shows – for the fans. Sure, it’s painful for him to relive those turbulent times through his songs. But with the aid of Dave Grohl, Margaret Cho, Craig Whatshisname from The Hold Steady and the good looking schmuck from Spoon, well, I guess it’s OK to take a victory lap or three. (See the recent Mould documentary aired on VH1 Classic Rock.)

I think you know where this is going, right?

Beauty & Ruin is yet another coming to terms album for Bob Mould. The title pretty much sums up the youth (beauty) and mortality (ruin) dialectic perfectly, now doesn’t it? And as expected, we’ll find Bob in contemplative mode, his thoughts ranging from wistful to sad to angry to dour. What else is new?

Standout tracks like “I Don’t Know You Anymore” and, to a lesser degree, “Kid With Crooked Face” follow the Husker/Sugar template that merges melody with powerchord crunch and a wee bit of hardcore anger thrown in just for kicks. And it’s great when Mould sticks to the formula he knows best.

Still, the album is burdened by a majority of mediocre to turgid tracks where Mould takes himself a wee bit too seriously. Case in point: On “Little Glass Pill” Mould laments, “You lie, you lie, you lie, deny, deny, deny, you live in denial, And why, and why, and why, and why, Am I, am I, am I losing this trial?” Oh please, Bob. Leave the persecuted, wounded bird bit to the emo kids, alright?

OK, maybe I’m being too harsh here. But that’s what I do. For a couple or three songs, Beauty & Ruin is exactly what I want from Bob. But there’s just not quite enough of the good stuff among the self-obsessed navel-gazing. If Bob could just get over himself and bust out that Flying V guitar again, well…

Bob Mould
Beauty & Ruin