Sugar / Bob Mould: reissues series
From a recent issue of Record Collector.
In the wake of Nirvana, major labels swooped to sign anyone making a buzz on the alternative rock scene. After the collapse of Husker Dü and the release of two solo albums, Bob Mould’s new band Sugar found a less obvious home with the pre-Oasis Creation Records; then growing in reputation following releases from Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub.
Largely ignored in retrospect, it’s almost surprising to recall how successful Sugar were. Not only did all three of their albums hit the top ten of the UK charts, but their Copper Blue debut won NME’s 1992 album of the year. Blessed with the sweetness and crunch that typified Seattle’s most famous sons, Copper Blue traversed the power-pop range – jangly acoustic pop (If I Can’t Change Your Mind), searing melodic punk (Fortune Teller) and a cheeky Pixies parody (A Good Idea) – all complimented by Mould’s imaginary friend vocal delivery and world-weary lyrics. The result is the most consistent and accessible album of his already acclaimed career.
Consisting of outtakes from their debut, the following year’s Beaster mini-album was Copper Blue’s psychotic sibling: the pop hooks jettisoned in favour of grotesque choral harmonies, ferocious aggression and Mould yelping about Jesus like a demented preacher. Mould has never been one to take the obvious route and Beaster consequently brims with an intensity that effectively killed their upwards momentum stone dead.
Flooding its opening track Gift with bursts of squalling feedback, File Under Easy Listening is split between songs that wouldn’t appear out of place on Copper Blue with softer forays into country rock. That wouldn’t be an issue stylistically, but half of the set falls far short of Mould’s highest standards with songs that stamp or strum without direction. Nonetheless, it contains one of the finest moments that Mould has put his name to in the shape of Explode and Make-Up, a harrowing ballad that offers little hope of redemption.
Unlike 2002’s electronica-influenced Modulate, Mould’s subsequent solo albums didn’t take huge leaps away from Sugar. Aside from some very dated drum machines, his eponymous 1996 collection differed atmospherically rather than sonically: the crushing bleakness of Anymore Time Between giving way to I Hate Alternative Rock’s cutting sarcasm. The Last Dog And Pony Show doesn’t fare quite as well as Mould revisits his previous styles with little consistency. The most notable example, the sample-heavy half-rapped Megamanic, is dire. It’s telling that LiveDog98, recorded at London’s Forum, closes with Sugar’s Man On The Moon.
Each of these four releases is boosted with a huge amount of bonus material – even the six-track Beaster adds a DVD featuring a video for Tilted and a five-song live DVD. Collectively, the additional content proves that Mould, like many prolific singer-songwriters, isn’t necessarily the best judge of his own material which is especially true of the five b-sides on File Under Easy Listening, all of which would easily enhance the main album. The point is reiterated across three live albums which awkwardly scatter b-sides and unrecorded songs amidst more familiar album tracks.