Review Summary: Hardcore fans of Bob Mould's works may be put off by how radically different this album is on the surface, but if you take away most of the fancy effects, it is a Bob Mould album. And it isn't the worst thing he could have done. Artists don't always make
Modulate: adjust or vary, as in the pitch of the voice. (Webster, 2000)
Before Bob Mould released Modulate
in 2002, he knew he was going to cause a stir, but the signs weren't explicitly obvious that he would be making a complete change, even if the album before this one was called The Last Dog and Pony Show
. He did experiment with mixing his sound up in the oddly hilarious rap track Megamanic
off of the aforementioned album, but this is an entire album filled with computer effects, voice changes and other such oddities.
At the core, Modulate
is a Bob Mould album. It’s got the guitars he is known for in some tracks like Soundonsound
and his vocals, even though being masked with effects in most places (years before auto-tune became the norm in pop music) sound like what we’ve become accustomed to. The whine in his voice he has perfected is still there. In short, one can expect a decent Bob mould album essentially jazzed up with computer effects and other such oddities. This would be the most experimental Bob Mould has been since 1984’s Zen Arcade
while with Husker Du. However, it was not his intention to define genres or to do something bigger than rock and roll with Modulate. At face value, it’s just a new avenue for a great artist to experiment with.
The opening track, 180 Rain,
is a clear heads up, a defining statement that shows what this album is about. It has sounds being made by computers and some hint of auto-tune in the vocals. It wouldn’t be surprising if nothing on this track was a natural instrument or altered in some way by a computer. If this is the new sounds Bob has to offer us with this album, it’s not the end of the world.
In places, the odd sounds and vocal effects really do justice. Comeonstrong
is the standout track on the album. It sounds catchy, has great guitar work and if stripped away from the flashiness of the computers would make for a great Bob Mould song that could come right out of the album Black Sheets of Rain. Trade
is another great, catchy track. Everything experimental with it works. It might suffer from repetitiveness what with being five minutes long but if there is one thing Bob Mould does best is make the same thing being repeated over and over sound fresh and exciting. Lyric-wise, the album is no step in the wrong direction, or a foreign direction; present are a few scathing remarks against former band mate Grant Hart on The Receipt
. It has lyrics such as “The basement window sheds no sunlight on your face” and “please don’t call me/ I don’t want to know you.” Quasar
has catchy lyrics such as “You are the brightest star. You are – Quasar”
There are areas where the album falters, however. For everything good Bob does, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Lost Zoloft
has a great beat attached to a song that is bad in all other areas. Homecoming Parade
is straight up noise, and it appears to be a straight throw-away track with no clear purpose on the record, and it doesn’t even transition all that well into the track that comes after. Hornery
follows suit. Worthless noise. This is an experimental album, but these last two tracks show what can happen when the experiment fails. Sunset Safety Glass
is a track where the experimental computer effects and sounds just come out wrong. Only until the bass kicks in at the end does the song get good. By then it’s too late.
The final track on the album is aptly named Author’s Lament,
in which Bob gives the listener some closure as if to explain what really just happened. On the track, he proclaims: “Sometimes, as the traffic goes by/ The urge to cross the line/ Is magnified from revolution/ Of racing tires” and “It's easy for you to stand outside/ It's natural for you to criticize/ Or mean offense.” While the track sounds decent at first it is nearly ruined by some sort of butchered Microsoft Sam voice saying inaudible things throughout it.
In short, Modulate
is radically different from anything Bob Mould has ever done. What came of it? Fragmented parts of this album have seeped into his newer work, such as mm17
off of Life and Times
and Shelter Me
off of District Line
. Hardcore fans will be upset at the radical change, but it is a relief that there are people like Bob Mould making music, no matter the genre. Besides, it seems as if Bob wrote this album for himself, as a testament, proving he can switch things up radically and make something enjoyable. If this is the worst thing Bob has ever done his place in the mythical indie Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame has definitely been cemented.