By David Browne
May 03, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Despite that sort of occasional surprise, J Mascis’ and Paul Westerberg’s recent works have one unfortunate aspect in common: Each shows how inherently conservative these men have become. At one time, they seemed like the forebears of a new style of rock, but they now seem either terrified of or simply uninterested in experimenting with so much as a different beat, song structure, or anything beyond the time-honored guitar-bass-drums format.

On the surface, the same could almost be said of Bob Mould, the first solo album in six years from the former leader of Husker Du and Sugar. As with everything Mould has put his name on, Bob Mould is a series of claustrophobic sonic cathedrals upon which he lathers thick, brutalizing guitars (and everything else — it’s a one-man-band project). He’s also still the sullen, angst-ridden brooder. Several songs, like the scabrous ”I Hate Alternative Rock,” apparently allude to the breakup of his most recent band, Sugar. (In a statement that accompanies the album, Mould says they were ruined by ”that quest for success.”) Other songs chronicle the not particularly fun dissolution of a love affair. ”I need more/To talk to you so bad/So bad I could cry again, just like last time,” he sulks in ”Anymore Time Between,” whose eerie, ticking-clock arrangement ups the intensity of Mould’s words.

Like Paul Westerberg, Mould is often given to feelings of defeatism, anger, and self-pity. But what distinguishes Bob Mould, his strongest album in years (with or without a band), is that the music constantly wards off those self-destructive feelings. ”Egoverride,” on which he chides his own critical acclaim (”I can change my mind like any other genius”), starts in overdrive and never relents, while the brisk guitars and rhythms of ”Fort Knox, King Solomon” and ”Deep Karma Canyon” are as invigorating as a mountain hike. Westerberg may sound worn by his battles with the industry, and Mascis, as usual, seems oblivious. But Mould, who continues to record for an independent label, makes the fringe sound like a healthy, productive place to be — which, come to think of it, was the lesson of underground rock in the first place. A-