Album: Copper Blue
. . .
After Hüsker Dü suddenly (and surprisingly, at the time) broke up in 1988 after having released five fucking amazing albums in row — two of them doubles — in the 2 1/2 years between July 1984 and January 1987, Bob Mould & Grant Hart almost instantly went to work on their solo careers, both instantly distancing themselves from their former band.
And so Grant Hart’s 1988 “2541” single and subsequent 1989 Intolerance album were full of acoustic guitars and keyboards, and Mould’s first two solo albums, 1989’s Workbook and 1990’s Black Sheets of Rain were too light and too heavy, respectively. At the time, I preferred the latter to the former and still think the best song from that period was the b-side, “All Those People Know,” which played to his strength.
Which, of course, is writing incredibly catchy songs over incredibly loud guitars. I mean, as far as I was concerned, everybody in Hüsker Dü had a lifetime pass by 1986, so this was all gravy.
Skip to a couple of years later, and tons and tons of musicians came to the realization that if Nirvana could have massive, world-changing success writing incredibly catchy songs over incredibly loud guitars, maybe they could, too. And of course, one of those musicians was Bob Mould, who had already basically perfected that shit: “Celebrated Summer,” “Makes No Sense at All” and “Ice Cold Ice,” are all exemplars of the form, and were blueprints for so much that followed.
And thus, Sugar was born, Mould sticking with the power trio format by recruiting bassist David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis.
I don’t remember what kind of advance warning I had about how good Copper Blue was when I popped it in my CD player in early September 1992, but I do know that as the big rumbly guitars that announced the opening track, “The Act We Act,” roared out of my speakers, I was already entranced.
I’m watching you walk
As you walk that distant way
Take that thing away from me
Take away most everything
I couldn’t say I’d blame you
You should never look in back
You wouldn’t be to blame
If you couldn’t take it back
Everything that made Copper Blue great is right there in this song: the pounding rhythm section, the multi-tracked guitars, the smart, thoughtful words — Mould has always been a great lyricist — and the utterly stick-in-your-head harmonized chorus.
All the things I haven’t seen
Once the final curtain has been raised
The act we act is wearing thin
The act we act under my skin
The words the words we said goodbye
The words left choking in my mind
The act we act is wearing thin
I think we wear it out again
About halfway through, Mould kicks in with a tremendous guitar solo that basically ups the song to the next level, as the rest of song is nothing but hooks and licks and licks and hooks all along while Mould is singing about how much “the act we act” is fucking with him.
It’s a tremendous beginning to an album that would come to define the last quarter of 1992 for me, as many was the night in September and October where I would sit the porch of my four-plex apartment with a pre-bar cocktail, blasting Copper Blue out of my living room through the screen door, prepping me for whatever adventures I was (or wasn’t) going to have that evening.
“The Act We Act”
Bob Mould plays “The Act We Act” Live on KEXP
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