Hüsker Dü began making records in the Reagan era, and their hardcore-punk-bad-trip-psychedelia — exemplified in a white-knuckled cover of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” — was a perfect reflection of WTF rage at America’s right-wing hijacking. So it’s welcome and fitting to hear new music from ex-frontman Bob Mould during America’s current cultural crisis. What may surprise some, though, is how violently happy Mould can sound on Sunshine Rock. “Look above you, I will love you/In the sunshine” he hollers on the title track, savoring the feel of “a cool breeze blowing through my beard” with a tambourine shimmy, “bop-bop-ba-dop” backing vocals, and the Prague TV Orchestra sawing merrily away. Things sound even brighter on “Sunny Love Song,” Mould snarling, “My troubles, they have ended/ My sorrows ended too/ I should write a sunny love song every day/ I will shine so bright on you so true.” And “Camp Sunshine,” a gently strummed ballad about the escapist joys of making music, glows like an indie-rock Moonrise Kingdom.
But no worries, dark-siders — there are shit-tons of worries here. Sunshine Rock is more about fighting for love and happiness than realizing it in any stable way. “Every day I ask myself/How and when does sadness end? /Many ways to hurt myself/ Lost again,” Mould sings on “Lost Faith,” a song that see-saws between bottoming out and yanking oneself up from the abyss. It’s a resonant tension mirrored across the entire album. “Sin King” suggests a failed love affair, but also a metaphor of an American who feels his country has broken faith (Mould has recently been living in Berlin). “The Final Years” is a mid-tempo meditation on how to spend your golden years. Any contemplation of mortality here stands to reason: Mould’s friend and Hüsker Dü bandmate Grant Hart died in 2017 in the wake of their curating the Savage Young Dü compilation, a massive anthology of the group’s earliest recordings, most nearing 40 years old.
Those experiences might explain Sunshine Rock’s intensity, though Mould isn’t known for chill-out music, fondness for German techno notwithstanding. Among the album’s most ferocious songs is “Thirty Dozen Roses,” a hairshirt thrasher about being a “lousy prick” which steamrolls over questionable puns with a Hüsker-ish hardcore attack. The most delightful might be “Send Me A Postcard,” the album’s sole cover, a remake of the 1968 single by the Shocking Blue, a Jefferson Airplane-ish garage-psych gem that finds Mould raging “How can I make you understand? I wanna be your woman!” It’s totally awesome, tortured and joyous in perfect balance, and it does what Mould’s music has always done, even at its bleakest — exorcising demons through rock noise. “Baby, we all lose faith in troubled times,” he sings at one point on Sunshine Rock. Then he shakes it off, and keeps moving.