Did Bob Mould Really Get Happy?

Andrew Falkous investigates on Sunshine Rock.


Happy. A word as welcome in good music as a cold shit on a deli tray (exceptions apply, I’ve seen the internet). Happy. The word cues up for me, like for every other human on planet Earth, I’d imagine, the Pharrell Williams song of the same name, forcing me in turn to recall an incident in two-thousand-and-Google-it when we were forcibly moved from his path backstage at the Pyramid Music Festival in Australia, lest he be forced to cast his eyes upon our obvious failure.

Happy—just don’t look at me, third-division indie-rock band, I’m a proper star¹. Bob Mould is a proper star, of course, as any sad wanker (and I’m amongst the very saddest, although my sex/wank drive is currently offline due to the continuing rigours of adult life) growing up in the ’80s/’90s and with a penchant for guitar music which wasn’t thick-as-all-fuck would tell you. Hüsker Dü were a special secret, made all the more secret by self-imposed production techniques which did not so much date the records as place them front and center in a museum exhibit titled “What the fuck were they thinking?” It was a secret I had entirely to myself until I made it to college, which is a place where all Husker Du fans go to learn how to do their own laundry. But Happy? Happy didn’t really come into it, occasional two-minute rush of hormones notwithstanding, especially during Bob’s songs² which weren’t so much heart-on-sleeve, as “Please Sir, can I borrow your sleeve? My heart has fallen out and requires immediate coddling.”

Then, for those who weren’t along for the ride at the time, there was Sugar. Copper Blue passed me by a bit, thoroughly good as it was, but Beaster passed me through, a mini-album in running-time only, massive and imposing and everything I’d ever need from a collection of songs. But not happy, no. Happy would have been a strange look to wear to that particular yacht party. Desperate, straining, flailing, maybe, they would have fit, all perfect costumes in which to go swimming against the tide. Happy would have been a life-raft and life-rafts, figurative ones at least, are for folk singers pitching for that lucrative advertising dollar³.

Happy? I’m not so sure it’s that simple, on further reflection. This record has been introduced to the word, certainly, but is mostly engaged with running it through the relevant battlefield scenarios, seeing how this new and exciting emotion could play out through the vast and varied experience of being human.

Exhibit one (yeah, I’m trialing this format, sorry): four uses of the word “sun” in the song titles alone, let alone the album title itself. FOUR! Fucking Nora. First up is the title track, which manages to sound clean, furious, and happy at the same time, zipping along like it’s got a whole garage of spiders to gas. Caveat fans might like to comb through the lyrics and wonder at exactly how overjoyed a man whose perma-present existential dread (“there is no second chance, there is no second chance”) underpins almost every note he’s committed to tape can truly be. Answer? He can sound it, alright, and maybe that’s just the way he likes his coffee. Fact fans, those notorious pedants, might not be so taken with Bob’s assertion that “the moon is merely a reflection of the sun” but hey, that’s lyric writing for you, sometimes you have to tell your audience bare-faced lies in order to provoke an emotional response⁴.

Exhibit… nah. That format got old quick, let’s just press on with the music. “Sunshine Rock” is followed by “What Do You Want Me To Do,” the answer to which must surely be, “keep making records like this, they’re great,” and/or “lend me several thousand pounds so I can move to Berlin too, I hear they don’t have Brexit there.” The rhythm section, who deserve names—Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy of Superchunk—are raging, fair fucking play to them, especially on “Thirty Dozen Roses” (which is a lot of roses, you must admit) and “I Fought,” two songs which are so much up my alley (or “in my wheelhouse,” if you relate more completely to wheelhouses) that’s it’s almost as if I ordered them specially from UberEats⁵. The lyrics? Happy/sad (hey, the happy thing was only to sell the story of the record to journalists with the attention span of strobe light manufacturers, every record needs its thing), past/present, hope/resignation. The aforementioned “What Do You Want Me To Do” sounds (to me, at least) like Bob singing a Grant Hart song, which is probably sacrilege but hopefully the good kind which reinvents God rather than kills him/her outright. Similarly odd, but brilliant, is the cover of “Send Me a Postcard,” which I didn’t know was a cover until the internet, in its second most useful act of the decade, told me so just ten minutes ago.

I am eternally grateful.

There are other songs, of course, some of which might be your particular favorite, more melancholy in general but partial to a big fucking chord now and then and always, always, remembering to bring the catchy (the grabby, the Merge website says, and I know what they mean while wishing I didn’t) without sounding as if it was too carefully considered, which is always the trick of it⁶. Oh, and nobody plays a chord like Bob. Traditional, like, but totally unaware of it, still thrilling mainly because it manages to excite itself as his voice barrels behind, not stopping for answers in the gaps.

Yeah, it’s good. I think you should listen to it.


¹ Perhaps I’m being unfair, and this was due to his “people,” although “people” usually reflect the person, I’ve found
² The wonderful Grant Hart had some sprightly moments, it must be said
³ Other currencies are, of course, available
⁴ Imagery? No such thing. Back of the class
⁵ I have never ordered anything from UberEats
⁶ Always. Always always always

Andrew Falkous has been/is a member of the bands Mclusky and Future of the Left, and is currently releasing solo not-solo music under the name christian fitness. He has an abusive relationship with music which occasionally pays for a nice holiday somewhere warm and is allergic to seafood. (Note: all seafood.) You can follow him on Twitter here.