These days, although not commercially successful in their time, several albums by “underground” bands are looked back upon as classics. In their time the good reviews they got didn’t equal commercial success, which is a shame, and in some cases, surprising. There are many of these great bands, including The Replacements, The Minutemen and, later on, The Pixies. Some bands of the era did go on to great success though-REM is a household name these days, and they are just one example. However, one of those bands that never experienced great commercial success was Husker Du.
(check their main page for more info) were a three-piece punk band from Minnesota, formed the late 70s. The band’s first album, Land Speed Record
was released in late 1981. The album was a live recording of the band’s uninteresting and generic hardcore music. However, with several prolific releases throughout the 80s the band raised their profile, gaining fans and respect along the way.
The band’s first critical success was the 1984 double LP Zen Arcade
. A sprawling album, it showed a wider range of influences than the band had revealed previously, and is looked back upon as one of the greatest independently released albums of the decade. The band followed the said album up only a few months later in early 1985 with (what I feel is their best album) New Day Rising
The general consensus seems to be that Zen Arcade
is the band’s best work-and however great that album is, I disagree. Although impressive, the album has some flaws, including its overlong closing track (which takes up a quarter of the album’s running time). It’s as if the band were being too ambitious with that album-however, on New Day Rising
the band seemed to be working on a smaller-and more appropriate-scale.
Despite descriptions of the band including terms like “hardcore” and “punk”, this album transcends both genres. The snotty, rebellious attitudes of punk are absent here-instead the songs tackle various subjects. For example, the relatively upbeat and ‘happy’ “Songs About UFOs” is about a girl who has an obsession with unidentified flying objects (‘Walking down the sunny streets to the library/Checking out the latest books on outer space’), while “Terms Of Psychic Warfare” deals with a bad relationship-neither try to appeal to ‘rebels’ or anything of the like-they’re about what Grant and Bob know respectively, and the songs feel more genuine because of it.
Generally, the happier tunes came from the pen of drummer Grant Hart (although he did pen “Terms Of Psychic Warfare), while the darker ones came from guitarist Bob Mould. The two were both vocalists who would sing on their own songs. The two were a great song-writing duo, comparable to Lennon and McCartney. (Bassist Greg Norton had almost minimal input in the band’s creative output, despite being a capable bassist. He’s probably best remembered for his moustache more than anything).
However, sometimes the tracks have no obvious meaning. The album’s opening song and title track’s lyrics consist of nothing but “New Day Rising” yelled over and over on the top of a riff that is used throughout the song. It may sound boring, but the urgent drumming of Grant Hart and Bob Mould’s heavily distorted guitar tone make the track sound vital and alive for its duration. It works wonders to get the album going and sets the listener up for what is to come.
For the most part, the album is fairly catchy and accessible, while also remaining intelligent (something far too rare). Songs like “I Apologise” return to the relationship theme with the band’s usual energy and vigour, while “Folklore” is the album’s ‘punk’ track, discussing American history over loud, crashing guitars. “Celebrated Summer” mixes things up by having two short acoustic sections, which provide a nice contrast to an otherwise loud, distorted and speedy album. The song also arrives halfway through the album, making it the perfect place for such a break.
However, the band were also able to dip into more avant-garde and bizarre music, as demonstrated on “How To Skin A Cat”. Set over dissonant guitar chords and simple drumming, Mould talks about an odd business plan about a cat farm and how to feed the cats he will keep. This is really the album’s only downfall-as much as it provides something different, it doesn’t keep with the flow of the album, and seems like the band were trying too hard to make something ‘weird’.
The album also suffers in the area of production, while I’m on the topic of its few flaws. The album was made cheaply, and it was made quickly, and unfortunately it shows at times. Although Mould’s guitar is supposed to be distorted, it sometimes sounds like it shouldn’t be that noisy. Another qualm is Norton, who while dependable, never really seems to do anything special with his bass lines.
However, these are nothing more than small little blotches on what is an otherwise fantastic album. New Day Rising
is a fast and lively album, one which is filled to the brim with energy and power. It is a mostly even album (although the first half is slightly superior to the second), with songs that you know are Husker Du, and you know are from this album, but still provides enough variation to keep from being monotonous.
New Day Rising
is one of the best albums of 1980’s, and you’re missing out if you don’t at least give it a try.