Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

From the vault: influential melodic punk from Hüsker Dü

My freshman year in college, a lot of people played Hüsker Dü for me. In fact, it seems every dorm room I wandered into had “Zen Arcade” or “New Day Rising” playing. Now, “Zen Arcade” has some fine songs on it. It also has some stuff that is really hard to listen to (‘Never Forget You’ and ‘Pride,’ for example) and that would prevent me from ever putting the disc in. For years, that kept me from picking this album up. I was listening to a song by guitarist Bob Mould with his other band, Sugar, the other day and I realized that in the age of iPods, I can cherry pick “Zen Arcade” and just keep the really good stuff. That’s what I have done today.

I spent a lot of evenings in friends' dorm rooms with this playing in the background.

Early in their career, Hüsker Dü was a full on hardcore punk band. By the time they got around to their last 2 albums, “Candy Apple Grey” and “Warehouse,” they were really a pop band with Punk influences. “Zen Arcade” was their 3rd album of 7, and though punk is still the heart of this album, you can start to hear hints of the heavy melodic pop that was to come.

This is a rare occasion when I won’t encourage you to get the album I’m writing up today. I kept only 10 of 23 tracks on “Zen Arcade” and the stuff I got rid of is pretty raucous. I definitely recommend you listen to and perhaps purchase these, however.

  • Something I Learned Today – Classic punk with almost screamed vocals. There is anger in the delivery, but joy in the chord progression.
  • Never Talking to You Again – I understand Mould was occasionally booed by the harder core fans when he stepped out on stage with an acoustic guitar in his hand. It’s a pity, because they probably couldn’t hear him playing this great and honest song.
  • Chartered Trips – Mould and drummer Grant Hart both wrote songs for Hüsker Dü but I am more of a Mould man, I think. I love the energetic guitar work on this track.
  • Hare Krsna – I like some of the weirder songs on this album and this is one. The percussion is dominated by a constant jangling noise like sleigh bells, the vocals are moaned, and the guitar rips and scratches all over but the overall effect is somehow infectious.
  • The Biggest Lie – This is a heavy and slightly depressing song about almost making it and failing. “Back to your day job. Back to your girlfriend.” The power chord intro makes my teeth ache.
  • Pink Turns to Blue – The album was produced in 45 hours on cheap equipment for $3200. The roughness of the session is apparent on this track but, of course, that is a lot of the appeal of tracks like this one.
  • Newest Industry – The banging piano gives way to hard hit chords on the chorus while Mould wails about the fall of the industrialized world.
  • Whatever – “Zen Arcade” is a concept album about a kid who runs away from home. This song is about his realization that the outside world is worse and he actually had it pretty good at home. He promises to do whatever they want if they’ll take him back.
  • The Tooth Fairy and the Princess – This weird and evocative track is one of my favorites on this album. I don’t know how people come up with concepts like this or how they explain it to their band mates.
  • Reoccurring Dreams – The album ends with this impressive 14-minute jam. The chord progression is unusual and creative and the solos are blistering but I have to be honest, this becomes too much for me. Fortunately, through the magic of technology, I was able to pare this track down and fade it out after about 6 minutes. This sample is 7 minutes long, so you can hear what I kept.

As I was writing up this album, I thought about how “Zen Arcade” reminds me of “Quadrophenia” by The Who. Turns out I am not the first guy to make that comparison. As I researched this album, I saw that comment in several places. I think the themes and energy make such comparisons inescapable.

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July 7, 2010 - Posted by | Hard Rock, punk, Rock

1 Comment »

  1. good to know people are still writing about this band

    Comment by Itchy Hearts | April 27, 2011 | Reply


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