Sugar and Bob Mould – deluxe reissues

Until someone can battle through the legal bondage of multiple records deals, to concertina together a definitive Mould Gold anthology from Bob Mould’s 30+ year music career, long-time observers and late-comers alike will have to make do with exploring his vast back catalogue in more en masse minefield fashion.  Whilst Mould’s Hüsker Dü catalogue on SST is surely in the greatest need of some remastering and recalibrating, his mid-career phase signed to Creation Records and Rykodisc (in the UK and the US respectively), with Sugar and in solo mode, has also needed some curatorial care and restoration… and here it all is.

SugarCopper Blue (2CD+1DVD reissue)

Sugar - Copper Blue

It’s strange in a way how the early-success of Sugar – Mould’s power-trio with bassist David Barbe and drummer Macolm Travis – has been so easily forgotten.  Released in the midst of the Nirvana-led alternative rock tsunami that Mould had helped to pave the way for during his hard-slogging ‘80s with Hüsker Dü, Sugar’s unit-shifting Copper Blue debut, unleashed in 1992, was arguably his biggest professional reward and vindication.  Whilst time has slightly dimmed and weighed-down some of the brightness and buoyancy of Copper Blue, with its somewhat dated compressed and dense early-‘90s production values now being more distracting, at least in nostalgia terms it’s a joyous heavy-melody blast from the past.  In terms of songwriting and gutsy delivery, Copper Blue is Mould at his most infectious.  It’s hard not to feel elevated – and in need of an over-sized t-shirt and a sweaty rock venue to jump around in – by many of the record’s still stand-out moments.  Hence, the rubbery jerking “A Good Idea” remains a sterling affectionate reclamation from the Pixies; the chiming surging “Changes” retains its soaring hooks; “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” continues to radiate as a fantastic folk-rock reverie; and the chugging buzzsaw-pop of “Fortune Teller” is a welcome self-referential flashback to Hüsker Dü’s Flip Your Wig.  Lesser moments drag more than they used to, with the once much-loved “Hoover Dam” and “Man On The Moon” now feeling rather plodding and ponderous, especially with their cheap-sounding keyboard adornments more prominent in the grungy sonic soup.  Yet, overall Copper Blue is a big burly charming period piece to pluck from the shelves from time-to-time.

New Extras: A clutch of B-sides (with a ‘solo mix’ of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” as the key highlight); a decent four-song BBC radio session; a full 1992 concert (with a spleen-venting take on “JC Auto” being the outstanding moment); and a DVD of amusingly antiquated contemporary promo videos and MTV appearances.

SugarBeaster (1CD+1DVD reissue)

Sugar - Beaster

Although compiled from the same sessions as Copper Blue, the 6-song Beaster mini-album from 1993 is a darker yet more refined affair.  With luminous new mastering, its almost fat-free strength is now more clearly defined, revealing what could be one of Mould’s most concise masterstrokes.  Bookended with the opening semi-acoustic shoe-gaze homage of “Come Around” and the closing ecclesiastical ethereality of “Walking Away,” Beaster is a little more about studio craftsmanship than sheer brute force and enthusiastic energy.  Therefore even its guitar-thickened centre is more meticulous than Copper Blue.  Thus, the utterly terrific “Tilted,” with its military drum rolls, searing string-bending and bleak lyrical deluge, is quite possibly Sugar’s finest four or so minutes; the sickening churn of “Judas Cradle” and the scolding “JC Auto” drill deep into Mould’s self-questioning religious core; and the relatively lighter “Feeling Better” twists and turns into a multitude of shapes.  Whilst Copper Blue has the edge in terms of open-handed tunes, Beaster is a more artistically rewarding affair.

New Extras: A DVD featuring the “Tilted” promo flick and four songs from an outdoor 1993 XFM live show.

SugarFile Under: Easy Listening (2CD+1DVD reissue)

Sugar - File Under: Easy Listening

After relentless back-to-back global touring for Copper Blue and Beaster, Mould, Barbe and Travis struggled to capture the same flowing essence when it came to cut 1993’s File Under: Easy Listening.  With initial studio sessions ending fruitlessly, the record took far longer to piece together.  Perhaps unsure about how to react to the commercial success of its predecessors, F.U.E.L. is a rather disjointed but still likeable affair.  Although sunnier and more spacious in terms of recording aesthetics, the album ultimately lacks consistency and the same quantity of quality songs.  That said, it still packs in some solid and respectable cuts.  Hence, “Your Favourite Thing” is pure Mould power-pop, “Gee Angel” is formulaic but irrepressible college-rock and “Believe What You’re Saying” flirts successfully with Wilco-like Americana.  As swansongs go, F.U.E.L. was perhaps a rather stumbling end to the short Sugar story but ultimately it’s not quite the lacklustre disaster that some critics have previously suggested.

New Extras: Some choice period B-sides (including the potent should-have-been-on-the-album “Mind Is An Island” and an unplugged ‘campfire mix’ of “Believe What You’re Saying”); a solid 1994 concert recording; and a DVD of promos and more MTV featurettes.

Bob Mould – Bob Mould (AKA Hubcap) / The Last Dog And Pony Show / LiveDog98 (3CD reissue)

Bob Mould - Bob Mould (AKA Hubcap) / The Last Dog And Pony Show / LiveDog98

With Sugar having ending (amicably with the parenthood-pressured David Barbe, less amicably with Malcolm Travis), Mould returned to trading solo as he had done between Hüsker Dü and Copper Blue.  The first results of this switch back to a band-less existence came with 1996’s Bob Mould (more easily known as Hubcap by fans, due to its front cover) which fills the first disc of this solo album compendium.  Listening with 2012 ears, the record may not be an overwhelming revelation but it is far more interesting record than many might have remembered to be.  Although the decision to use a drum machine remains questionable, the DIY nature of the album liberated Mould to stretch himself into both trusted and untried positions.  Hence, there’s a clutch of archetypal noise-pop delights (“Deep Karma Canyon”), sprawling gut-spillers (“Anymore Time Between”), sparse confessionals (“Thumbtack”) and more sonic experimentation (“Hair Stew”), to make up an album that’s flawed but inventive.

On the second disc here, returns 1998’s The Last Dog And Pony Show, which Mould heralded on release as his last rock guitar album (a promise since broken of course).  Again, like Hubcap it’s been underappreciated, even if it’s a rather more disparate beast.  Certainly, the album contains a good handful of top-notch Mould solo pieces that need reappraisal.  The towering folk-rocking “New #1” is an unquestionable gem; the Sugar-like “Moving Trucks,” “Classifieds” and “Taking Everything” are remarkably enjoyable and the cello-adorned “Along The Way” would have fitted well on 1989’s solo Workbook.  Elsewhere, there are noticeable signs of artistic fatigue with the formulaic self-pitying ilk of “Skintrade” and “Who Was Around” and the frankly bizarre faux-hip-hop of “Megamanic.”  The LiveDog98 disc rounds off this collection with an on stage recording from The Last Dog tour that is servicable but somewhat dour and hard-going with its stubborn and heavy focus on nearly-all solo material.  Ultimately, this solo collection is probably for fans-only but it’s revealing and sometimes rewarding in the context of the overriding ongoing Bob Mould tale.

New Extras: Some Hubcap-era B-sides (including the stunning lost acoustic pearl “Eternally Fried”) and a 1998 audio interview with Mould himself.

Territorial Release Note:

All the above reissues are available in the UK on Edsel.  Abridged – DVD-less versions – of the Sugar reissues are to follow on Merge Records in the US.