After leaving Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould released a couple of solo albums, before forming another power trio. Unlike Hüsker Dü, where Grant Hart was an important songwriter and vocalist and Greg Norton was also central to the band’s sound, Sugar is Mould’s show; his two new recruits, bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis are unobtrusive and stay out of the limelight.
Sugar’s albums are better produced than Hüsker Dü’s and can be found in bargain bins everywhere; they’re less interesting than Hüsker Dü, missing the poppy counterpoint that Hart’s songs provided. David Barbe has gone on to a successful production career with the Drive-By Truckers, while Mould has continued as a critically regarded solo artist.
Sugar Album Reviews
Mould was dropped by his record company after 1990’s Black Sheet of Rain. The success of Nirvana’s Nevermind, however, made audiences more receptive to Mould’s tuneful and loud rock.
The best songs are when Mould steps the furthest outside of the early 1990s alternative conventions that this album is steeped in. Mould’s work in Hüsker Dü was a formative influence on much of the grunge/alternative movement in the early 1990s, so it’s just a natural progression for him to sound like this – but it’s the faux-classical keyboard break of ‘Hoover Dam’, the acoustic ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’, and the big sounding closer ‘Man On The Moon’ that are my favourite moments on Copper Blue.
Copper Blue is a solid collection of songs, but it’s too unimaginative to rate among Bob Mould’s best output.
Beaster is where all the energy and anger from Hüsker Dü went. Six Copper Blue outtakes are somehow moulded into an extremely coherent concept EP, creating Sugar’s best and most substantial release. While breakup was a noticeable theme throughout Copper Blue, this time it’s right on the surface; Mould describes it as its”evil twin”. Mould uses religious imagery – the title is a reference to Easter – placing himself and his former lover in the roles of Judas and Jesus.
While the central tracks are harrowing, the album is bookended by two gorgeous moments; on ‘Come Around’ the guitars lock into a mesmerising swirl as Mould simply repeats the title, while ‘Walk Away’ is a lovely organ piece that brings the set to a calm conclusion that seems unlikely during the chaotic rock of ‘JC Auto’ or ‘Tilt’. It’s vintage Mould, and it’s far more emotionally convincing than the more commercially oriented Copper Blue, recalling the vintage days of Hüsker Dü. The only real weak point on this release is the overlong coda to the otherwise excellent ‘Feeling Better’.
Like all of Sugar’s releases, Beaster should be easy to find cheap, and it’s well worth tracking down.
FILE UNDER: EASY LISTENING
After the inspired noise-fest of Beaster, it’s back to Bob Mould by numbers on Sugar’s final album. File Under: Easy Listening is cheerier than previous efforts from Mould; he pulls out the acoustic guitar for ‘Panama City Hotel’, while ‘Gee Angel’ is downright happy. It’s more pleasant sounding than Copper Blue, with a more relaxed overall tone and more textural range, but there’s nothing here that’s particularly revolutionary and it does feel like a retread.
Having said that, ‘Explode And Make Up’ is another great Sugar album closer, with a punchy arrangement that jumps from acoustic balladry to electric bluster within a few seconds. Bassist David Barbe gets a songwriting credit and lead vocal with the pleasant but generic ‘Company Book’. while some of Mould’s material is also uncharacteristically one-dimensional, like the repetitive rocker ‘Granny Cool’.
It’s easy enough to like File Under: Easy Listening, but it’s not compulsive listening like Mould’s best work with Hüsker Dü. The three Sugar albums cost me a grand total of NZ $13; see if you can find them all even more cheaply.
10 Best Sugar Songs
Explode and Make Up
Man on the Moon
Panama City Hotel
Needle Hits E
If I Can’t Change Your Mind
More from Aphoristic Album Reviews
Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:
I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections: