Any fears that Hüsker Dü’s move to a major label might signal dilution, concession or crossover get “sucked out of the first-class window” in the first few seconds of auricle-bending clatter on “Crystal,” this album’s opening cut. “Crystal” provides a metaphor for the splintering of consciousness in the Information Age: “When civilization falls in its grave/Technology throws on the dirt.” Bob Mould’s startlingly new, yet eerily familiar, guitar playing is the sound of a thousand radios producing soothing hums amid a jarring cacophony of static.
If there is genius in Hüsker Dü, it is in the band’s oxymoronic resolution of tension and repose. When they got together seven years ago, Hüsker Dü’s avowed purpose was to be the loudest, tightest, fastest band in the world. They achieved their goal early on with Land Speed Record. On Candy Apple Grey, they refine the concept of a limited, yet infinite, sonic palette. Bob Mould (guitars, vocals, keyboards, percussion), Greg Norton (bass) and Grant Hart (drums, vocals, keyboards, percussion) create an overpowering, hypnotic effect that straddles the boundary between consonance and dissonance. Repeated listenings not only sustain the initial effect but reveal the subliminal hooks, melodies, choruses and surprisingly conventional structures supporting the towering edifice.
The lyrics deal with life’s intricacies and paradoxes. On Candy Apple Grey, Hüsker Dü pits the ruminative American singer-songwriter tradition against the caustic squalling of high-precision hardcore. Ironically, the so-called ballads are more abrasive than the screechers. Mould’s “Too Far Down” and Hart’s “No Promise Have I Made” show that the human voice is the most expressive instrument of psychic pain. On “Hardly Getting Over It,” Mould contemplates death with a mixture of resignation and rage: “My parents, they just wonder when they both are going to die/And what do I do when they die?”
Yet when the ten segments of Candy Apple Grey begin to reflect and refract off each other, the ultimate result is spiritual liberation. We should be grateful that this band wound up playing in the majors.