When Bob Mould hauled himself out from the ashes of underground cult favorites Hüsker Dü last year to craft the extraordinary Workbook, the album’s eloquent understatement revealed new emotional range in this doleful guitarist-singer’s work. The largely acoustic instrumentation and rustic inflections immediately set Mould apart from his former band, but left some wondering where the electricity went.
The opening squeal of feedback and thrilling layers of noisy guitar mark Black Sheets of Rain as a solid return to Mould’s old volume levels. The music roars as Mould pours his wounded heart into the lyrics and his guts into the fiery playing, supported by drummer Anton Fier (leader of the Golden Palominos) and Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone.
But while the album’s aggressive sound alone may satisfy the Hüsker Dü faithful, Black Sheets is actually a bit of a disappointment. Few of the songs equal Workbook‘s melodic strength or share the poignancy of its passion. Fier’s attention-grabbing drumming stomps all over the material, thundering through vocals and solos with the subtlety of a syncopated jackhammer. And though the first side’s obvious standout, ”It’s Too Late,” has a catchy Dü-ish chorus, cumbersome environmental lyrics don’t quite suit the toe-tapping mood.
Mould finds firmer footing halfway through the album. Mixing a little quiet into the maelstrom, the somber lover’s farewell of ”The Last Night” is rivetingly sad; although delivered with surging tunefulness, ”Out of Your Life” repeats the theme with equal emotional impact. But Mould concludes the album on an unequivocally bleak note, spent and groaning as the uncontrolled sonic fury of ”Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace” squalls itself out. Cheer up, Bob — things can always get worse. B-