Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hüsker Dü

  • Land Speed Record [New Alliance, 1981] B+
  • Everything Falls Apart [Reflex, 1982] A-
  • Metal Circus [SST EP, 1983] A
  • Zen Arcade [SST, 1984] A-
  • New Day Rising [SST, 1985] A
  • Flip Your Wig [SST, 1985] A-
  • Candy Apple Grey [Warner Bros., 1986] A
  • Warehouse: Songs and Stories [Warner Bros., 1987] A-
  • The Living End [Warner Bros., 1994] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Land Speed Record [New Alliance, 1981]
Like a good Eno ambient, this raving nonstop live one provides just enough surface detail--recombinant noise guitar, voices tailing off like skyrockets, slogans such as "data control," "do the bee," and "ultracore"--to function as mood rather than trance music, though admittedly not for the same kind of mood. Guaranteed to assuage the nervous tension of co-op conversion, labor strife, bad orgasm, World War III, and other modern urban annoyances. In other words: aarrghhh! B+

Everything Falls Apart [Reflex, 1982]
Documenting their power-trio approach to hardcore, with each instrument distinctly virtuosic and each instrumentalist an accomplished yowler, here's proof that these shaggy dogs from Minneapolis are the musical equal of Black Flag and Minor Threat and more sensible than either (though not a lot more). Like any self-respecting hardcore band, they spend more time criticizing their subculture than criticizing their society, which they assume you know isn't worth the trouble. Inspirational Verse, from "Obnoxious": "You say we play too fast/ Music's not gonna last/ Well I think you're wrong." Cover: "Sunshine Superman." A-

Metal Circus [SST EP, 1983]
While Bob Mould isn't quite Ian MacKaye's equal as a front man or Greg Ginn's as a guitarist, Hüsker Dü's reenactments of hardcore's hyperdrive ritual have always matched Minor Threat's and Black Flag's on sheer collective enthusiasm, and this EP translates their heart into song. With Mould molding molten metal into whopper hooks and drummer Grant Hart contributing emotional vocals on two key cuts, they take Minor Threat's trust-yourselves-not-us message seriously. And while I'm a little uneasy with the high-powered fatalism of "Real World" and "Deadly Skies," somehow it doesn't seem final with a band that cares this much. A

Zen Arcade [SST, 1984]
I'll swear on a stack of singles that "Turn on the News" could rouse as much rabble as "London Calling" or "Anarchy in the U.K." I play side three for pleasure and side two for catharsis. And I get a kick out of the whole fucking thing, right down to the fourteen-minute guitar showcase/mantra that finishes it off. But though I hate to sound priggish, I do think it could have used a producer. I mean, it was certainly groovy (not to mention manly) to record first takes and then mix down for forty hours straight, but sometimes the imperfections this economical method so proudly incorporates could actually be improved upon. It wouldn't be too much of a compromise to make sure everyone sings into the mike, for instance, and it's downright depressing to hear Bob Mould's axe gather dust on its way from vinyl to speakers. Who knows, put them in the studio with some hands-off technician--Richard Gottehrer, Tony Bongiovi, like that--and side two might even qualify as cathartic music rather than cathartic noise. A-

New Day Rising [SST, 1985]
With its dawn-over-the-lake cover, guitar chimes, and discernible melodies--on as many as ten of the fifteen songs!--this is the Hüskers' pastoral. I suppose a few hardcore urbanists will think it's wimpy or something, but by any vaguely normal standard it's clearly their finest record even if they have turned off the news in pursuit of a maturity I trust they'll outgrow. Not that they haven't matured. Bob Mould's ambivalence gets him two places instead of none, and I love Grant Hart's love objects--one with a big messy room and "a worn out smile that she'll wear some more," another who's heavily into UFOs. Play loud--this is one band that deserves it. A

Flip Your Wig [SST, 1985]
They've never sounded so good. Spot's gone, as are most of the cobwebs that obscured their clamor, so without kow-towing to Michael Wagener we really get to hear Bob Mould's guitar. Thing is, what's made them major isn't Mould's guitar, their mainstay from the first--it's songcraft. And now Grant Hart has gotten so crafty (or happy) that he's turned conventional--"Green Eyes," about beauty never jealousy, and "Flexible Flyer," which advises that we keep our hearts "burning brightly," are attractive in their way, but they betray a pop simplemindedness unworthy of the hard-driving oddball love songs that make New Day Rising such an up. As for mainstay Mould, he's still honestly confused and mad as hell. May his heart burn this bright forever. A-

Candy Apple Grey [Warner Bros., 1986]
Grant Hart breaks up with the love of his life, Bob Mould can't shake off a bad trip, and hand in hand they sell out to the big bad major with the most disconsolate record of their never exactly cheerful career. Of course, between the swelling melodies that are supposed to give them pop accessibility and an attention to recorded sound that does some justice to their humongous musical details, the overall effect is more inspirational than depressing--this is the album that combines the supersonic soar of Flip Your Wig with the full-grown vision of New Day Rising. As for pop accessibility, we shall see. A

Warehouse: Songs and Stories [Warner Bros., 1987]
They invented this barrage, and they've perfected it: for close to seventy minutes, songs rise out of the roiling seas like elephant seals, bellow their hooks, and sink sleekly away. But there's a downside to the overwhelming consistency of what those who take the title literally assume is a hodgepodge. Now that they've mastered the feat of yoking elemental noise and elemental melody, their power of musical expression has apparently rendered irrelevant the meaning of individual songs. So that almost as soon as you notice one--Grant Hart's "You're a Soldier," with its sermon to the enemy, or Bob Mould's "It's Not Peculiar," with its stuttered refrain--you're not sure you trust it. A-

The Living End [Warner Bros., 1994]
Culled from their final tour, their second live album--the first was their first, with the lovely protohardcore title Land Speed Record--is long on late songs, its only cover the perfect "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker." But the mutual disregard that had set in well before their demise never dented their reputation as the fiercest band in el nuevo wavo. Their ordinary shows were something else, and given how dimly they were recorded at SST, the live-to-the-soundboard audio is often an improvement. Not an epiphany. But definitely a manifestation you can believe in. A-

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