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Bob Mould Workbook 25 (Reissue) & 25 Years of Workbook (Concert – Minneapolis)

March 8, 2014


Bob Mould’s Workbook is one of the most important albums in my music library.  I had not been a Hüsker Dü fan (I was a Replacements guy and if you read this blog you know I am consistently late to the party).  I had some of their albums (I had to – I am a Minneapolis guy), but they never resonated with me.  When I picked up Workbook in the spring of 1989 I was sold – Bob Mould was a genius.

I was a big Richard Thompson fan at the time and I was blown away by how much Mould channeled him – yet Mould claimed to be ignorant of the influence at the time he put these tracks down.  On the surface Workbook denies Mould’s hardcore punk reputation.  But Hüsker Dü always was much more than a typical hardcore band – they were subversives – sneaking melody and pop under buzz-saw guitars.  In the review mirror of 25 years it should not be a surprise that Mould would pull a subtle masterpiece out of the ashes of Hüsker Dü.

The back story is that Bob was recovering from the nasty breakup of Hüsker Dü.  He was living in a farm-house outside of Minneapolis.  He wrote these songs and demoed them alone.  He shopped them to Virgin who was trying to gab a foothold in the American indie-rock hot bed of the late 80s.  Virgin got lucky – they bought a masterpiece.

Workbook mixes folk and rock to stage the reflections of a thoughtful man who just survived a hurricane.  It is tender and edgy.  It is joyful and cynical.  It is the mature statement of a once angry teenager who is now a man. I am roughly the same age as Mould (and now that we are both in our mid-50s we even look a bit alike); this album really resonated with me – I was about to become a real man myself just a few months later with the birth of my son.  The album has stuck with me over the years and as recently as a couple of years ago it was back in heavy rotation as I was recuperating from surgery while reading Mould’s memoir.

It has only been in the last few years that I finally “got” punk music and Hüsker Dü in particular.  It is easy to see now why they were so important.  It is tragic, yet  only right, that they would self destruct despite recently hooking up with a major label.  The foreshadowed by five years Nirvana who would take their innovation to the masses (Cobain would be the first to admit the influence).

I was excited to see Mould was reissuing Workbook on LP (on vinyl for the first time) and in deluxe CD package.  When I went the Electric Fetus to pick up the LP, I was disappointed to see they vinyl did not have the bonus live stuff on the deluxe CD package – so I opted for the CD.

The CD sounds great.  A much livelier mix; much more presence and wider sound-stage than the original CD (I like to think we have learned a thing or two about mixing CDs in 25 years).  The original was great sounding CD – the reissue is even better.  A great remaster.

But the real treasure here is the bonus CD (since I have listened to the original hundreds of times) of a live concert from 5/14/89 in Chicago (The Metro).  The live presentation of the Workbook songs is more what you expect from a rocker like Mould – so it’s fun to have rough and raw rocking versions of the songs.  The live set has a couple of songs that did not make the album, a brilliant cover of Richard Thompson’s “Shoot Out The Lights” that alone is worth the price of admission (Mould must have been curious about the comparisons that were being made), he rounds out the set with an acoustic solo rendition of three Hüsker Dü chestnuts.  I am so sick of being screwed over by crappy bonus disks – this is redemption I needed to keep being “that guy” (AKA sucker) buying deluxe editions.

Bob Mould in Minneapolis  Mould photo

A joyful Bob Mould – photo from City Pages and my sorry iPhone snapshot

On to the recent Workbook 25 show in Minneapolis.  For a professional review, a set list and better photos see City Pages.

I really enjoyed the show. First the venue is great – The Women’s Club Assembly is the perfect size for an artist like Mould and the theater seating is just what the doctor ordered for Mould’s aging fan base. The crowd was the most impressive collection of 50+ hipsters I have ever witnessed.  Bob was in great form – he was energetic and joyful.  He really seemed like he wanted to be there and the quote of the night from him was “For this record, I can say it: It’s good to be home.”  He even wore a Minnesota themed shirt.

Mould attacked Workbook as the true Hüsker Dü alum he is – he was rocking.  But that was also a bit of a disappointment too –  as cellist Alison Chesley was pretty much silenced by Bob’s roaring strat.  If he was going to play like this I would have rather had a drummer than a cellist – but that is really my only disappointment.

In addition to the Workbook songs, Bob played a smattering of his other solo work, a couple of Sugar songs (damn I loved Sugar! in the 90s!), a song by his backup players’ band (Verbow) and a Hüsker Dü song as a tease.  Over all a great show – good enough to help me forget my aching back (that is another story) for 105 minutes of rock and roll nirvana.  PS – “See A Little Light” gave me goosebumps (see Bob play it a couple of nights later on Letterman).


From → Music Reviews

  1. Oh, man – Sugar’s “Copper Blue” remains somewhere on my all-time top 100. I have written more code with that album blazing in my ears than I can count.

  2. I think I told you I seen him on Austin City a few years ago. He was great!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Catchgroove’s Best of 2014 (Music) | Axl's Catch Groove
  2. Bob Mould – Live at Turf Club (St. Paul Mn 4/18/17) & Catchgroove’s Hall of Fame: Sugar – File Under Easy Listening  | Axl's Catch Groove
  3. Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock | Axl's Catch Groove

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