Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sugar-Copper Blue (JHO Hall Of Fame)

Sugar-Copper Blue (1992)
After a couple of solo efforts, Bob Mould's short lived band Sugar popped like someone shooting a rifle onto the alternative music scene in 1992. It was fitting, Mould had been name checked by Kurt Cobain for Mould's work with underground band Husker Du in the eighties. While Cobain and the rest of Seattle was celebrating their takeover of American alternative music, and mainstream music for that matter, isn't it fitting that Mould had his brightest moment, if not as commercially successful, at that same time?

"Copper Blue" is perhaps the most shiny, bright, and energetic body of musical work I've ever loved. Each song bristles with energy and the harmonies are luminous. Like pop/hard-rock cotton candy. What holds it together and keeps itself in your collective memory is that the songwriting is just so damn good. My friend Trapper once posed the question to me, "Is there a better album that starts off with five knockout songs like "Copper Blue"? The answer is no (Maybe "The Joshua Tree", but it holds a different energy than what you have with "Copper Blue".)

The 5 starters:
1. "The Act We Act"-Starts the album off with Mould's grunge like guitar, drums and bass make an appearance then races into a sunny "faux" chorus. Mould stately sings "The act we act is wearing thin...I think we wear it out again." It's the perfect opener, partnering his melancholy lyric content with great illuminating, hooks. It is sometimes forgotten because the next four songs strike gold.
2. "A Good Idea"-The most sinister of the bunch with David Barbe's bass line rumbling along and jabs of guitars pushing in. A couple goes to the ocean on a warm summer night when the air is "thick with the smell of temptation." He then proceeds to "push her down into the water" as she "didn't fight it all". It's a lyrically morbid piece, but Mould pulls off the narration in a ornery state and the music chugs along a jet ski. The best drowning murder of all time, with a head bopping, nervous energy to hide the gory mischief going on. A gem.
3. "Changes"-The power pop treat of the bunch. Big guitar chords crunch along as Mould looks for a new lease on life. He's been let down, "I’m accustomed to your deception/Comes the rule with no exception" and wants someone new "And if I found someone who thinks/That they’ll be true to me/I really wouldn’t want to change it." The whole guitar solo at the end is fantastic as the song whistles by and settles on holding onto a note at the end before.....
4. "Helpless"-....busting into more perfect power punk on "Helpless". Here's where the shiny comes in full blast as guitars sound like rays of sunshine and the rhythm section moves things along at the right speed, all undermining the down and out lyrical nature of the song. The yin vs. the yang. As Mould sings "Time after time...you make me feel so helpless", you could care less about his state of mind as you sing along and let the music warm you over.
5. "Hoover Dam"-Starting with backwards loops of keyboards and drums and then erupting into a drum roll, Mould delivers perhaps the most memorable song on "Copper Blue". His trademark melancholy was masked on the first four songs by the bright energy of the songs. Here, Mould gives into positive vibes. "Hoover Dam" is like the wind that washes over him. A nice acoustic guitar is the muscle of the song with guitar wah-wahs and a keyboard solo all incorporated. It's unique and always empowering to hear. The simple line "Standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam" near the end before fading back into the backwards loops that mark the beginning of the song is just icing on perhaps my favorite first half of an album ever.

This doesn't mean the rest of "Copper Blue" is bad by any means. "The Slim" is a slow burner that somehow retains a great deal of energy with its own brand of menacing guitars. "Slick" is warped fun, like being on an amusement ride that you're enjoying but could get "sick" at any moment. "Fortune Teller" has a great guitar line and a sort of memorable chorus and "Man On The Moon" ends the album on a lighter swaying note with Mould playing the part of the man inducing you to sway your arms as he serenades, "It's the man on the moon, saying goodnight to you..." A great ender.

Oh, and "Copper Blue" has one of the best acoustic guitar based, break up songs of all time. It's the one that should have, could have been huge. "If I Can't Change Your Mind" is sunshine, sixties power pop that belongs on best of lists everywhere based on whimsical, energy alone. "I guess you're leaving soon, I guess you've had your fill/But if I can't change your mind then no one will." Breaking up has never been so fun. Absolutely wonderful stuff, even the guitar line at the end he's had trouble duplicating the couple times I've seen Mould in concert.

Critics mention albums being watershed moments in molding music for future generations. Here's an album where you can just throw out that theory for a moment and enjoy it for face value, for unabated energy, for the best music Mould has ever committed to tape at one time. I've never met anyone who has heard a song or songs from "Copper Blue" and disliked it. It's a benchmark for how I want smart, energetic music to sound to me. It came out at a time when I was just loving a lot of new music on the "alternative" scene and is one of the few survivors from that time period. Without hesitation, I would throw "Copper Blue" into my top ten albums of all time, anytime. It's just that good and so refreshing eighteen years after its release. In my book, absolutely essential.



  Hoover Dam - Sugar by D-Waves

  Sugar - If I Can't Change Your Mind by misterwilson

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