EVEN IF you've only marginally followed Bob Mould's career over the last decade or so, you're aware the songwriter has veered slightly off the straight, smoldering pop-punk trail he blazed with Hüsker Dü and Sugar—much to the dismay of fervent fans of his aggressive material. Beginning with 2002's befuddling electronica misstep Modulate through to 2009's introspective, acoustic-oriented Life and Times (with an occasional grand slam in between, notably a few songs off 2005's Body of Song), Bob Mould had ostensibly chilled out quite a bit. Even the select cuts that did feature his signature sonic walls—and I do mean walls—of gutsy, overdriven guitars sounded submissive and lackadaisical compared to their antecedents.
His latest release, Silver Age, is probably the closest we'll ever get to a fourth Sugar record, and I'm personally more than satisfied with the results. It's no surprise, then, that Mould is playing both this latest record and his alternative rock masterpiece Copper Blue back-to-back in their entirety on his upcoming tour (with an all-star band, featuring Jon Wurster of Superchunk on drums and Jason Narducy from Split Single on bass). This new material is more complementary than anything else in Mould's solo canon from the last 20 years. And thankfully, this stylistic reversion doesn't seem like mere amenable pandering either, as Silver Age is also, perhaps not so coincidentally, the most organic-sounding record Mould has released in ages. The first single off the record, "The Descent"—whose music video was shot in Portland, I might add—is perhaps the greatest pop gem Mould's penned since his glory days with Sugar.
Thematically, the album tends to slip into some awfully dark territory: The lyrics in opening cut "Star Machine" read like a dissertation on the ephemeral nature of fame, and parts of "The Descent" seem like Mould acknowledging his inevitable death. The ferocious guitars and Wurster's galvanic drumming complement these sentiments marvelously, and offer a drastic—but welcome—contrast to Mould's last few solo records (although the Who-esque rock 'n' roll tribute "Keep Believing" and closer "First Time Joy" are among Mould's sunnier compositions). On the title track, Mould sings that he's "never too old to contain his rage," and that's cause for celebration.