White hot rock’n’roll at full pelt...

When Bob Mould dropped the white-hot rage of ‘American Crisis’ back in June, it felt like everything you could want from a punk veteran in the Trump era: honest, catchy as all hell and absolutely raging. It’s surely the boomeriest of boomery observations to state that life under a right-wing government is good news for the art of the protest song, inasmuch as it’s brainlessly glib nonsense. However, those very conditions have certainly dragged the best from one of alternative rock’s favourite sons.

‘Blue Hearts’ finds Bob looking in every direction at once. Musically the album often recalls the jackhammer brilliance (and the velocity) of his 1980s trio Hüsker Dü at their peak, while also lamenting that he spent that he spent that decade as a closeted gay man living under a Republican government that was happy to look away while a community fell prey to HIV/AIDS. “I watched a lot of my generation die,” he sings bitterly, this time putting himself forward to be counted against an administration he bluntly refers to as ‘Evangelical ISIS’.

Conversely, ‘Next Generation’ finds him looking towards the future, asking: ‘Who knows what things will be like two generations from now?’ He doesn’t have any definitive answers but with hope posited against a yearning melody and his fury towards the state of present-day America, his passion is nothing short of infectious - and thankfully, so are the tunes. - Let’s look at that title: obviously, given the political climate’s influence on the album, it’s a play on the Democratic party’s traditional colour. OK, this isn’t exactly a collection of Joe Biden cheerleading anthems, but it certainly underlines Bob’s hopes for the upcoming Presidential election - ‘get these fuckers out’ is the gist.

However, it echoes back to his second band Sugar and their fondly-remembered ‘Copper Blue’ record from way back in 1992, which provided something of a blueprint for the 59-year-old’s late career return to form over the past decade. The instant hooks of ‘Siberian Butterfly’ and the delightful ‘Everything To You’ (almost Alex Chilton-esque in its effortless romanticism) both hark back to the muscular powerpop of that album, switching between the political and the personal while reminding us that those two factors still exist within the same environment - your domestic life still rolls on, even when the world is falling apart, and each feeds into how you perceive the other.

Essentially, it’s rock’n’roll at full pelt; Bob Mould doing what Bob Mould has always done best. Written in a burst of creativity following last year’s deliberately upbeat ‘Sunshine Rock’, and more-than-ably bolstered by his long-term backing band of Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster, this darker set finds him continuing the hot streak that began with 2012’s ‘Silver Age’.

It’s a reminder that a great punk record may not be a cure-all for the world’s ills, but it can sure feel like a shot in the arm for your optimism. While it may feel bleak at times ( opening line ‘the West Coast is covered in ash and flames’ is particularly haunting given the wildfires laying waste to California right now), ‘Blue Hearts’ wants you not only to believe that things can be better, but to demand it. Now that’s a good idea.

8/10

Words: Will Fitzpatrick

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