Review Summary: When a bunch of Minnesota punks in 1985 realized that loving hardcore edge didn't necessarily mean hating Paul McCartney..."You grow up, you change your perspective...You're not always eighteen years old, drunk, with a Mohawk, driving around screaming and hollering about anarchy- you don't do that all your life."
And with this revelation in 1985, Husker Du guitarist and songwriter Bob Mould delineated the lines upon which Husker Du's next masterpiece, New Day Rising
would rest. Kiddish anarchy was fun...but you have to grow up sometime- and can't we have fun with it when we turn more adultish"
Bucking a trend of bone-headed and simplistic aesthetics of punk (an image they had previously spearheaded in a faster-and-dumber early album, appropriately called "Land Speed Record"
) Husker Du jettisoned the constraints of an earlier hardcore primalism and boldly did the unthinkable- introduced Beach Boys-tinged pop sensibility into an energetic but quickly calcifying genre. And from Bob's quote comes a masterpiece of the revolution in punk- the melodic post-hardcore masterpiece New Day Rising.
The consensus might be pretty solid among the punk historical elite, but it's worth revisiting today because it's a pretty incredible testament to the great reformation in punk that happened in the mid-1980's where the violent thrashery of punk rock kids smacked up against the concrete walls of a physically exciting but emotionally-limited ethos. Creating an early template that much of the subsequent Alternative Rock movement remains indebted to, Husker Du took a step outside their loud-and-fast hardcore Minnesota background and began to introduce a thinly-veiled backbone of pop melody to their static-heavy chaotic sound. Keeping all the frantic anxiety of classic punk but reaching for something a little more heart-felt, bands like The Replacements and Husker Du started to look for a little more poppy and sensitive structure in their music. And thus come the true gems of the movement- like Husker Du's New Day Rising.
What does Husker Du bring on New Day Rising"
Well, the frenetic pacing and sheer static-guitar chaos are certainly up-tempo and as aggressive punkish mayhem as it could ever be. But what changes with this album is the pop sensibility- like if Paul McCartney reincarnated as the lead songwriter for Black Flag.
No really- try the analogy out after listening to the past-looking, manic chaos of their overly nostalgic "Celebrated Summer". It's a whole-package entry into the punk lexicon with energetic guitar playing, lyrics with sincere messaging but delivered with a bit of post-teenage cynicism and a sweet, acoustic interlude. Tell me it's not punk furry. Tell me it's not pop bliss.
Other tracks like "I Apologize" and "Terms of Psychic Warfare" turn the punk energy inward, examining not societal woes like hardcore bands before but interpersonal conflicts in a difficult realm of day-to-day human relationships. Tinged with teenage angst an dusted with an eternal sense of melody- but not quite all the dark aggression stuff of similar bands. More like the desperation, the vulnerability and the eventual making peace with it all. But with buzzsaw guitars, crashing drums and terrible production. And the terrible production is pretty prominent- producer Spot, of infamous punk label SST fame, was an unwelcome addition to the St. Paul trio, who wanted to do things themselves. The result- a bunch of fuzz and drowned-out vocals speaks volumes of the tensions between the artists and the producer, no matter how talented both might have been in the punk circuit.
Despite the low-production- which never mattered much anyway when evaluating punk- lead songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart hit their career peak right here, both individually and as a group. Husker Du always gelled as a punk-with-nods-to-pop clearinghouse. Their legendary writing talents also hint at their soon-to-be-legendary creative feuding- with guitarist/singer Mould doubling down with a frantic and dour cynicism while drummer/singer Hart tried to yank the mood a little more towards the light-hearted and whimsical. More than one ambitious punk rock music critic has tried to fit Mould/Grant into a Lennon/McCartney framework, but without folding to prevailing logic, the analogy does kind of apply. The tension is palatable (what a cliche, ouch) but genuinely gives the album the kind of joyous- if not uncomfortable- schizophrenic feeling that can only come from a house divided.
As a representational album, New Day Rising fits squarely in Husker Du's sweet spot of their amazing 1984-1985 banner year. A slightly more precise album then Zen Arcade
- Husker Du's previous hardcore sprawling double-album- and slightly more together than Flip Your Wig
- the final album in a blitz year of album recording with Greg Ginn's legendary punk label SST- New Day Rising
tells a singular story, sings in a singular voice, and snowballs along in a shambolic euphoria that threatens to fall apart at every clever tempo shift- yet always sticks the landing in a haze of maddening guitar buzz and strangely poppy backing vocals.
John Leland in Spin Magazine promises that New Day Rising
"affirms everything that was good about punk in the first place."
I'd hate to ever write something that saccharine about a silly 1980's hardcore album. But frankly it's not a bad description of the joy and chaos playfully contained within the grooves of this record.
If New Day Rising
suffers from anything, its a lackluster finish from a strong first-side string of hits. But the bad isn't all that bad, and the important parts far outshine the weak bits to make an album that shines for the ages.
In retrospect, Husker Du weren't the first band to complain about the limitations of 1980's hardcore- but they might have been the first band to actually do something about it. For punk rock purists, New Day Rising
represents the point when Husker Du reached for a more poppy, accessible audience- and, not insignificantly, started contemplating with signing to a major label. Depending on you inner level of elitist douche, this is either total normal or a mortal sin.
And yet at the end of the day- and at over 30 years old- New Day Rising
still sounds as fresh, masterful and unique as it must have sounded in 1985.
We're not all teenagers anymore, but we can still enjoy the complexities of life. We might have lost the Mohawks and anarchy-screaming of the past, but New Day Rising
shows us that growing up doesn't necessarily mean giving in.
It's truly a new day rising.