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Bob Mould: Modulate
Granary Music, 2002
Posted: March 17,
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
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
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