What good did we, as a society, do to deserve Bob Mould? He is a Good and Pure genius, who touches down every so often and blesses us with a new album – in this case, Sunshine Rock – before going back to whatever loud and magical land he occupies. He is like a favorite uncle, occasionally forgotten in the daily grind by always welcomed with a sense of “Why am I not listening to this every single day?”
Mould doesn’t waste any time getting right to the title track, and it’s an aching love song in the vein of Sugar’s “Your Favorite Thing” Mould’s guitar pounds like a heart wrapped in barb wire, offering, pleading for the object of his affection to come away on an adventure. Mould is at his best when he’s begging, making you wonder who could possibly say no to the promise “I’ll be your astronaut.” Similarly, “Sunny Love Song” hammers away, perfectly summing up that wonderful melancholy that is the heartbeat. It’s easy to write a love song where everything is perfect, but it takes a master craftsman like Mould to write one that addresses the pleasure and pain that makes up the spectrum of modern romance.
But it’s not all love songs. Now 58, Mould reflects on aging and anger. “Where did I put my sense of misplaced rage?” he asks in “The Final Years.” “Who crossed the lines I dreamt up in my fevered state?” There’s a lot to be angry about, and Mould doesn’t shy away from it. But he also reflects on how to not let that anger be all-consuming. Two songs later, he’s enraged, howling “I Fought For You.” But it’s the anger of angst, of comrades, of lovers torn apart. “We had the world and it slipped out of sight.”
“Sin King” keeps that theme going, as he laments of allies who have sided with the enemy. “I know one thing about ya, babe, you’re sinking our democracy,” for those who “hate the sin, love the sinner,” who tie their hate in “economic anxiety” while smiling at their neighbors as they are suffering. It’s a powerful message, delivered with heavy-metal drums and the faintest breath of strings.
He doesn’t let himself off the hook either. “Lost Faith” laments on the people he’s disappointed and the friends he’s failed. But he’s not going to wallow, no. “Baby, we all lose faith in troubled times, you know I’m gonna be right here.” He’s holding on and so should we.
The album’s only disappointment is a minor thing and that is that Mould’s raucous vocals are set way back in the mix. But Mould probably has a reason for doing that. I trust him with my life.
Mould is the man we need right now. Sunshine Rock is bitter and hopeful, full of rage and promise. It’s an album that defines a moment in all its ugliness and the rare moments of beauty that we have to keep fighting for. “You can’t predict the future, you can’t forget the past,” he sings on “Camp Sunshine.” So maybe we can’t go back there. But we can make our own sunshine in our own little corners. We can all be someone’s astronaut.