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Mega-Mould Mix-up


Bob Mould: Modulate

Granary Music, 2002

Rating: 3.2



Posted: March 17, 2002

By Laurence Station

Bob Mould fans: Don't say you weren't warned. Back in 1998, when the erstwhile Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman released his last solo album (fittingly entitled The Last Dog & Pony Show), he claimed it would mark the end of his signature, slashing guitar-cum-buzz saw sound. With Modulate, his latest release, Mould for the most part proves he's a man of his word.

Armed with a computer and a copy of ProTools, Mould has crafted his most conspicuous electronica-flavored disc to date. After dipping his toes in the beat-processed waters with Dog & Pony's intriguing "Megamanic," Mould has whole-heartedly embraced the art of artificial craftsmanship on Modulate. Trying new things is all well and good, but there's also something to be said for playing to one's strengths. Mould is a passionate singer-songwriter: His direct, confessional approach, be it cranked to 11 or strummed with slow, acoustic emphasis, is what he does best. People buy his records to hear him sing about the ups and downs of modern day relationships, or, occasionally, rant against a social injustice. Electronica, by contrast, is not about verbose, clearly articulated lyrics. It's all about playing sounds off of one another, where the words are simply another tone to be woven into a much larger pattern.

"180 Rain," Modulate's opening track, works a familiar Mould theme, a relationship that's breaking apart. Unfortunately the densely overladen beats and blips obscure the vocals to the point that, even with the aid of printed lyrics, the singer's emotional pain and disaffection is difficult to grasp. The medium has become more important than the message, and for a wordsmith as talented as Mould, that's a dangerous precedent with which to kick off an album.

The second cut, "Sunset Safety Glass," works far better at integrating lyrics with sound, primarily because the words are abstract and serve as just more noise, rather than carefully considered sentence structures. When Mould's digitized voice intones lines like "Come down from the second floor/My familiar memory/Devil jumping from the ledge consume my soul," it's fine, because the sound is what matters, not the songcraft.

The trance/techno influence of DJs like Digweed and Sasha are reflected on instrumental tracks "Homecoming Parade," with its discordant horn-bleats and hollow cylinder drum patterns, and the soft-then-jarring chimes evident on the brief, eerie "Without?"

The strongest efforts, "The Receipt" and "Soundonsound," unsurprisingly, minimize the artificial quotient in favor of (relatively) straight ahead guitar-driven pop-rock, with Mould singing about those old mainstays love, regret and moving on with one's life after yet another affair fizzles out.

By including songs that hearken back to what he's done before (and quite well, at that), Mould attempts to have it both ways, and that push-pull tension between breaking new ground and sticking with what works detracts rather than enhances Modulate's overall impact. It's a bold move, one that Mould deserves credit for crafting entirely by his lonesome, but the end result comes across more as a work in progress than a full-blown transition to a new way of creating music. The appealing thing about Mould's career, however, has been his insistence on pushing the sonic envelope, even while mining the same lyrical themes over and over. With Modulate, it appears that his love affair with electronica is a genuine, if not entirely reciprocated, affair.

3 x 2002=Mould-Cubed
In June, Mould will release Long Playing Grooves, a totally electronic album under the alias LoudBomb. September (Ed. - Okay, we were off on this arrival date by about, oh, three years) brings the arrival of Body of Song, which (old time fans rejoice) hearkens back to the more straight-ahead acoustic rock found on his 1989 masterpiece Workbook.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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