Mouldiana (3)

By: James Parker
June 15, 2011


Third in a series of posts, coauthored by James Parker and Tommy Valicenti, singer/guitarist with the Boston rock band Mount Peru, parsing the solos of Bob Mould. Series intro here.

From Workbook.

1989: Workbook. Hüsker Dü are done, and Bob has gone all gloweringly self-consciously singerly-songwriterly, wearing a cardigan and making a different, demurer noise with his new band of pros and session men. Still, though, kicking tremendous amounts of ass. Recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park (basic tracks) and then at Grog Kill Studio in upstate New York (vocal wrackings and guitar-layers), Workbook is the sound of Bob announcing his solo-artist-ness, throwing as it were the mad moppet Hart off his shoulders. He has suggested that this album is his personal equivalent of Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass. Not much warped Hüsker-pop to be found on it: the tracks are stately with cello, filigree’d with jingle-jangle, and the rhythm section sounds like a firm of lawyers. “Sunspots”, the opener, is glassy New Age acoustic chime à la Michael Hedges, and track two — “Wishing Well” — begins with maturo-plod and an artificial handclap sound. But around 2.20 one of the amps starts to whine in irritation, growing louder and shriller until at 2.28 a chorus of overdubbed Bobs yells “Hey-hey!” and his guitar shoulders the song wide open.

The solo here is a masterpiece — how it boosts, how it broadens. Totally authoritative, but also close to breakdown. You can hear the frazzled might of Neil Young’s Old Black in its “Cinnamon Girl”-style powerchords, and then Bob clambering hand over hand up his own sheer and shivering modulations. It persists, the solo, carrying the song through a ferocious bridge and then powering down in super-strums before picking up again with cold folky fury at 3.55. Deep in the mix, to amazing effect, Bob sings along, baying and ululating and gnarly-yodelling at his guitar.


Co-written by Tommy Valicenti. Parker and Valicenti also collaborated on the series ANGUSONICS, which parsed the solos of AC/DC’s Angus Young.


READ other HiLobrow series: ANGUSONICS — the solos of Angus Young | ARTIST IN RESIDENCE — HILOBROW’s favorite artists | BICYCLE KICK | THE BOOK IS A WEAPON — a gallery | CABLEGATE COMIX | CECI EST UNE PIPE — a gallery | CHESS MATCH — a gallery | DE CONDIMENTIS — a world-secret-historical take on ketchup, mustard, relish, and more | DIPLOMACY — a world-conquest boardgame musical | DOTS AND DASHES — a gallery | DOUBLE EXPOSURE — the stratagems of Middlebrow | EGGHEAD — a gallery | EPIC WINS — our versions of epic poems | FILE X — a gallery | FITTING SHOES — famous literary footwear | GOUDOU GOUDOU — adventures in Haiti | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM — 25 Jack Kirby panels | LATF HIPSTER | MERIT BADGES — earn ’em! | MOULDIANA — the solos of Bob Mould | PANTENE MEME — a found gallery | PHRENOLOGY — the insane origin of browism | PLUPERFECT PDA — time-traveling smartphones! | POP ARCANA — spelunking weird culture | REBOOTING MUSEUMS | ROPE-A-DOPE — boxing | SECRET PANEL —Silver Age comics’ double entendres | SHOCKING BLOCKING — cinematic blocking | SKRULLICISM | UKULELE HEROES


Pop Music, Read-outs

What do you think?

  1. Another great close reading — I didn’t know “cold folky fury” was possible until now.

  2. I am really loving these James and Tommy. The analyses are excellent, but the little phrase morsels are my favorites: “chorus of overdubbed Bobs” genius!; in your last installment I laughed (OL, as the kids say) at the “Du biographer”. In “Wishing Well” I like how the prominent guitar buzz during the bridge mimics the amp whine before the solo starts — letting you know the guitar freakout is on the way back again.

    And how come Bob’s guitar always sounds so much fuller and warmer during the solos than that thin, flat sound of everything else? Oh, and forget what I said earlier about Divide and Conquer, I forgot it’s just a repeating guitar noodle for like five minutes, the anti-solo song.

  3. thanks people! i love doing these series because i get to re-meet my heroes and their noises. tomorrow we go into sugar – ’tilted’!

  4. Hated this record and tour– but it sure was LOUD. Might have also been least interesting project I ever heard Tony Maimone on.

    I agree the solo carries the song as far as possible which, for me, isn’t far enough, i.e. I don’t think the cold folky fury “works” and while the struggle should compel…

    But you know what it is, and why I never liked this album? Is that it’s NOT folk-y at all. The acoustic guitars– as would happen in many awful “Unplugged” sessions in years to follow– are props, ciphers, not used for what they’re best at NOR employed in any particularly inventive non-trad way.

    Thus neither folk NOR rock, just cold (i agree) and whiny (some hear “fury”).

    From the same year, this was my (rock) music–

Comments are closed.