If Bob Mould’s twenty-five-year career were a journey, by now he’d have racked up enough frequent-flyer miles to never have to buy a plane ticket again. Mile by mile, the onetime purveyor of blistering speed metal crossed into new territories, assimilating punk, acoustic folk, power pop and electronica into his sound. Not every stop has been pleasurable; sometimes the exotica of a new destination is just too awkward (as was the case with Mould’s previous album, 2002’s Modulate).
Three years later, he’s back on the junket with Body of Song, an album that finds Mould not so much traveling to new places as revisiting old ones, some he swore he’d never call on again. And this time around he’s a more seasoned, mature traveler.
Mould planned to release Body of Song in 2002, along with Modulate and an album of loops and effects he issued under the pseudonym LoudBomb. He released the latter two records, but put Body of Song on hold while he pursued his growing interest in club/electronic music. The respite from rock appears to have served him well.
Throughout Body of Song’s fifty minutes, Mould rekindles his love for the buzz-saw guitar and high-octane sound that influenced so many acts of the 1980s and 1990s, including Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana. That should come as a relief to the many fans who despaired seven years ago when Mould said he would ditch his distortion-drenched style and ensemble approach so he could pursue new methodologies. Songs such as “Paralyzed” and “Beating Heart the Prize” contain the trademark ferocity and hypersonic sound that has defined Mould’s career, first with the seminal band Husker Du, and later with Sugar and on his own. His penchant for tender ballads shines through on “High Fidelity” and the cello-backed “Gauze of Friendship.”
The album also shows he’s grown more competent as a keyboard player, using an electric piano to create an infectious riff on the opening — and best — cut on the record, “Circles,” and a Hammond organ to color between the lines of “Days of Rain” and “Gauze of Friendship.” Mould’s voice, long known for its nasal tone and drawl, sounds almost normal on some songs, coming complete with vibrato and richness.
Body of Song still serves up a generous portion of synthesized vocals, throbbing club beats, sequencer loops and other electronic effects, but unlike Modulate, they’re adeptly integrated into a mix that includes Mould’s more traditional assault of swirling guitar chords. Body of Song shows that for the most part, he’s overcome his childlike fascination with a new set of toys, having learned how to use the electronic instruments to create coherent, layered songs rather than just noises that tickle his sense of novelty.
Like a kid who can’t resist picking his scabs, Mould has always had a preoccupation with his inner wounds. Body of Song is no different. The despondency, gloom and bitterness that mark the end of a relationship are all there (as are the hope and renewal that come when starting a new one). Mould can still sound self-pitying, but more often he’s just someone trying to take responsibility for his predicament. The lyrics, while as self-confessional as ever, feel more like poetry now, and less like late-night words scrawled in a personal journal.
The album does have its indulgences: The church bells in “High Fidelity” are a tad over the top, and some beats are a bit shallow. But even though not everything Mould tries on Body of Song works, there are enough gems to make the album a worthwhile destination.