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Classic of the Week

Husker Du / "Zen Arcade" (1984) SST

February 04, 1993|JOHN PENNER

This Twin Cities trio spent three years and three albums redefining hard-core punk. And with this, its fourth album, it began redefining rock 'n' roll.

The Huskers backed off the tempo a shade, sorta like downshifting the blender from puree to frappe. They succumbed to melody. And Bob Mould and Grant Hart wrote songs that reverberated beyond Minneapolis and above the post-punk underground. I'd rank this one with "The White Album," "Exile on Main Street," "Quadrophenia" and "London Calling"--those rare landmark double-LPs that are stuffed full of wild experimentation and are riveting and satisfying through all four sides, even years later. It spawned legions of imitators.

As Mould and Hart's respective songwriting styles evolved, the Huskers developed a dynamic creative symbiosis between raw fury and impassioned pop. Mould ranted--with more style than ever--about big lies, bad relationships and what was going on inside his head. Hart evoked similar themes--heavy on the sour relationship trip--but his bitterness was colored more by sadness than anger; he crooned where Mould screamed.

As for singles, I'd put "Turn on the News" up against anything the era produced. And I'd even argue the merits of the self-indulgent journeys included here, notably the 14-minute guitar barrage "Recurring Dreams," which closes the set. It was indicative of things to come for the band--evolving threads of the Husker tempo and sound, punctuated on each new release with fresh experimentation. The result was a remarkable five-album run beginning with "Zen" and ending--along with the band--with another definitive double-LP, 1987's "Warehouse: Songs and Stories."

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