The gay, alternative-rock icon’s career has veered in multiple directions over the decades. He was an integral part of the widely revered trio Hüsker Dü during the ‘80s, recording albums like “New Day Rising” and “Candy Apple Grey” that are among the decade’s most hallowed in alternative rock. After departing the trio, Mould’s acclaimed first solo album, “Workbook” (1989), became one of the cornerstone albums of that era, thanks in part to the hit “See a Little Light.”
Thus started a long and fruitful solo career for Mould that continues strong as ever. Some albums have done better than others (“Copper Blue” with Sugar was particularly successful), and there are some hidden gems (“Black Sheets of Rain” doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves). “Patch the Sky” is vintage and essential Bob Mould — it builds on everything that has come before it.
The album begins with a cascade of electric guitar descending into the brisk rocker “Voices in My Head.” Mould’s voice sounds as good as ever and the melody grabs hold immediately. It’s like welcoming back an old friend, and he’s unburdening himself the only way he knows how. ”The End of Things” is particularly savage and seems imbued with bitterness. The band plays with reckless abandon, like the whole thing is going to careen off the rails at any moment but never does.
“Hold On” is a tight-as-nails melodic rocker that could fit onto “Copper Blue” with no problem. Mould delivers an impassioned vocal which is well down in the mix to be part of the electrical storm surrounding it. “You Say You” is a rigid three minutes of garage rock played with tight precision. Mould has surrounded himself with ace musicians (Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster on drums) for this set, and that comes through loud and clear in every song.
”Pray for Rain” is a force of nature, a potent hard rock explosion with blistering guitar. One imagines it was so loud when it was recorded that the air practically sparked with electricity. “Hands are Tied,” at a brisk 1:45, could be a raucous ode to the days of playing tiny rundown hell-holes with Grant Hart and Greg Norton in Hüsker Dü. “Black Confetti” is one of the album’s more complex tracks, with an expansive sound and tremendous vocal by Mould that’s submerged in massive swells of guitar.
Mould says on the Merge Records website that the dark intensity of “Patch the Sky” reflects ongoing turmoil in his personal life.
“I’ve had a solid stretch of hard emotional times, and thanks for the condolences in advance. I don’t want to go into the details — more death, relationships ending, life getting shorter — because they’re already in the songs. Just listen and see if you can fit yourself into my stories. The words make you remember. The music makes you forget.”
As a catharsis, the album delivers. It’s tight, potent and packed like a musical sucker-punch. “Patch the Sky” gives us everything we love about Bob Mould. The raw energy and frazzled emotion are there. These feelings are wedged into three-minute power-pop gems that are performed with blazing intensity and musical dexterity.
Mould’s remarkable career continues with yet another great album. How long can the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continue to ignore Mould and this enormous contributions to rock and roll? “Patch the Sky” likely won’t be a Top 10 album, and it will most likely be die-hard fans that pick it up. This is a shame, because Mould is one of the preeminent rock musicians still going strong in American music, and it’s time his consistently strong and vast body of work gets the recognition it deserves.
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