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Back in Howling Form : Bob Mould Finds Life After Husker Du--and It's Just as Bleak

November 15, 1990|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

A iieeaaaargghhhh!!!!!

The above is a typographical approximation of the last utterance a listener will hear on Bob Mould's new album, "Black Sheets of Rain." It is the sound of Mould making an awful death rattle as he imagines himself finding the only honorable way out of this painful vale that we call earthly existence: crucifixion.

"There'll be peace in the valley of death when I rise," Mould wails over and over, in the last verse of the album's last song, "Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace." Having spent the balance of "Black Sheets of Rain" wondering whether it's possible to keep one's resilience, and a glimmer of hope, in the face of degraded nature and degrading relationships, Mould ends in despair.

Some descents into despair are mere downers. But Mould's latest contemplation of baleful circumstances is cathartic, and in a way invigorating. That final yell doesn't sound so much like a cry of final surrender as it does a way of letting go of pain that has grown too great to bear.

Mould, the former Husker Du singer-guitarist, has caught some critical flak for wallowing in gloom on "Black Sheets of Rain" and his 1989 solo debut, "Workbook." There is no denying that this large rocker with a face like a slab of kneaded dough has one of the most saturnine artistic dispositions of rock songwriters to have emerged over the past 10 years. But Mould also has one of the most massive guitar sounds, a credential that separates him from the sensitive-folkie sort of despairing mewler.

In Husker Du, Mould was one-third of a band that ranked with R.E.M. and the Replacements at the pinnacle of alternative rock excellence in the '80s. Husker Du moved from thrashing punk on its early records to more accessible, varied and pop-informed material that won the band a label deal. Mould's darker preoccupations were balanced by the pop-romantic lift of the band's other singer-songwriter, drummer Grant Hart.

Husker Du blew up acrimoniously in late 1987. Mould emerged with "Workbook," a quiet, mostly acoustic, sometimes mannered album that seemed calculated to mark a clear departure from his old band. With "Black Sheets of Rain," Mould is back in howling Husker form, accompanied by drummer Anton Fier (Golden Palominos) and bassist Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu), alternative rock notables who are joining him on tour.

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