Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oreilles Gauloises (Twin Cities Edition) - New Day Rising (Hüsker Dü)

There were many great bands coming out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area in the late 70's and early 80's. And sure, there was Prince, but frankly, I wasn't paying much attention to that stuff at the time. Most people I knew were singing the praises of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements, but personally, I preferred the more punk-inspired antics of Hüsker Dü.

I was first exposed to their music in '85 when I found their album Zen Arcade at my friend Adam's place, and while it made a big impression on me (a punk band doing a double concept album!!), it wasn't until I heard New Day Rising that I got into their music more seriously.

It was really the first time that I heard what I would refer to as the melodic punk sound...a harsh guitar sound, but beautiful melodies. I guess these days, people call it pop punk. I loved the fact that these guys were also kind of ugly, and not at all in step with the indie world aesthetics of the time. Both the guitarist and he drummer were a little fat, and the bass player had this very un-punklike handlebar mustache! Not exactly eye candy. They truly didn't care. As good as the Replacements were (and they were very good), to me they were still pretty boys getting attention partly for all the wrong reasons. Hüsker Dü, on the other hand, only had their music to rely on, and I think that made them a better band.

It wasn't until years later that I also found out that the two song writers and lead singers in the band were both gay. That made them even cooler in my eyes, and it made me look at all their lyrics in a somewhat different light. It was also a big lesson for me in terms of learning about homosexuality, and tearing down some of the stereotypes around that topic.

Another reason I love this album is because it really has two very distinctive styles of songwriting, and it really comes through on this record. Even if Bob Mould and Grant Hart had indistinguishable voices, I could still listen to the music and say "this is a Bob song" or "this is a Grant song". They really were in many respects each other's biggest rival, à la Lennon/McCartney, and that rivalry I think substantially contributed to the high quality of the writing.

This album is packed - PACKED! - with great rock songs! From the strident sounds of Bob Mould's Gibson Flying V on the title track, to the great lyrics of "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill" and "Terms of Psychic Warfare", to other gems like "If I Told You", and "I Don't Know What You're Talking About" - it's hard to find any filler in this record.

To me, this was the band's zenith! They really peaked with this album, and I think they never quite surpassed the quality of the songwriting after that. Plus, it's their best album cover work, by far! The picture of those two dogs in the water is as iconic an image for me as those Raymond Pettibon's paintings on the Black Flag album covers.

For those who say that the 80's sucked musically, I say, as I once heard Henry Rollins say, "it depends on what altitude you were flying". Sure, there was plenty of really bad pop music, and godawful spandex metal, but there was also Sonic Youth, the Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr....and Hüsker Dü.

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