Hüsker Dü is what Tears For Fears pretends to be — the real heir to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, the musical equivalent of the primal scream. If most pop songs consist of passion recollected in the tranquillity of a studio, this trio from Minneapolis offers passion re-created in the studio. To many, the resulting rage is purposeless noise, but the message is apparent — if you can sing about heartbreak or confusion on key, you can’t be too upset. And the Hüskers are always upset.
The unifying theme of Flip Your Wig, which the Hüskers produced themselves, is that maintaining your sanity requires a major effort. Guitarist-singer Bob Mould repeats this idea in several songs, all spaced evenly over the LP: the album-opening title track, “Games,” the antibourgeois “Private Plane” and the single, “Makes No Sense at All.” “Flip Your Wig” says it’s about “normal people going for a spin.” Mould’s appropriately flat, ordinary voice isn’t softened by the usual echo and reverb, which adds the proper perspective to “Divide and Conquer.” In this song, Mould attributes world malaise to the spread of muzak and nine-digit ZIP codes. The frustrations expressed by the Hüskers are universal, but two songs also mention their additional responsibility of being minor stars and a major cult. This uncharacteristic self-consciousness is a dangerous signal, in light of the band’s everyman persona.
From the album cover and the lyric sheet to the production, this is Hüsker Dü’s most polished, professional record to date. A few of the songs could almost be termed catchy (“Makes No Sense at All” and “Games” are the likeliest candidates for airplay). There’s also less unreconstructed rage than before, although the Hüskers can still be tuneless when the situation requires. The droning “Find Me” is either about the Vietnam War or a bad acid trip, and on “Every Everything,” a rant about obsession, Mould sprays his toxic guitar at the listener’s nerves, drowning out the bass and drums.
As usual, drummer and resident spiritualist Grant Hart is the voice of dippy wisdom in Mould’s emotional maelstrom. “Green Eyes,” his scruffy, puppyish love song, sets up “Keep Hanging On,” in which the Hüskers conclude that fidelity and dedication are the only salvation from life’s daily shit storm. Although they hardly invented that idea, Hart’s harrowing delivery — he screams himself hoarse, losing control of both the lyrics and the melody as if in dread of the dirgelike instrumental that follows — turns “Keep Hanging On” into an anthem of survival. Throughout its fourteen songs, Flip Your Wig is a product of compulsion — passion seems an inadequate word — and it communicates its savage purpose loud and clear.