Copper Blue is one of my all-time favorite albums and most certainly deserves to be represented here, but it was really hard to pick a song for a list like this. This isn’t a Whitney situation, where all of the major singles are tied for first. I always have a favorite song off of Copper Blue, but it rotates between the four best: “The Act We Act,” “A Good Idea,” “Helpless” and “The Slim”
In fact, in the two-whatever months I’d been doing this list, I switched favorites from “The Act We Act” to “A Good Idea.” That’s how volatile the situation is. The longest consecutive reign belongs to “The Slim” which is probably my actual favorite, but there was a situation which I’ll get into later, shortly after I found out that it’s a reflection of the pain of losing someone close to you from AIDS and the simultaneous fear and dread that came with being gay in the early days of the epidemic. Copper Blue was released shortly after Bob formally came out and I can only imagine how much trepidation and relief were simultaneously woven into artistic output that follows. The song is raw and impossibly sad. I was completely obsessed with this, listened to the song on repeat so many times, I ate my own sadness and now listening it makes me want to barf. It’s still the strongest song on the album, but I can’t listen to it.
I frequently forget about Sugar and go months and occasionally years between Copper Blue listens, but that just makes putting it on all the much sweeter. It’s a ridiculously great album. I invite anyone to speak up if it isn’t their favorite post-Huskers Bob Mould output because I think it’s fairly unanimous. I would take it a step further, and would put it up against New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig any day. It’s ahead of most Huskers albums because of the production value but the songwriting is also brighter and bouncier. It’s musically if not lyrically more optimistic. Danceable.
Sugar shares a guitarist, lead vocalist, and primary songwriter with Husker Du and I explored Sugar’s catalog at the same time I did Husker Du, in the late 1990s. I ended up being a bigger fan of Sugar (and Bob Mould solo-proper). Sugar presents a modernized version of Husker Du (to the extent possible between the late ‘80s when the Huskers broke up to the early ‘90s when Copper Blue was issued). Pitchfork attributes this to the advent of Grunge and the mainstreaming of bands influenced by Husker Du as well as Bob Mould’s just hearing the Loveless album by My Bloody Valentine. This is funny in the context of my Sugar bias because I don’t particularly like My Bloody Valentine.
I’ve seen Bob Mould play twice, which is a low average for a fan of independent music who lives in Washington, DC and in fact only saw him in DC once. I don’t think he’s ever lived here, but a recent music collaborator does, so Bob spends a lot of time here and performs as Bob Mould Solo-proper locally pretty often. We went once in 2012, less than a year after we moved to the area, not a time about which I think with much fondness. It was kind of a rough time and coincided with the aforementioned period when I was obsessed with Very Sad Song “The Slim,” likely because things were kind of a bummer over all. Bob was actually touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Copper Blue and in doing so, he was set to play the entire album. I was beside myself.
Leading up to the show, our good friend Eddie would be in town and wanted to get together that evening for drinks. We figured it was cool, we could have a couple at a nearby bar before heading over to the 9:30 Club. We met Eddie and travel companion at Bohemian Caverns (RIP) and I ordered a tall, single rum and Diet Coke, which is what I did at the time. We had two or three drinks and were having such a good time catching up with a pal from the Old Country, I didn’t realize how crazy-strong said cocktails were. Upon arrival at the show, the place was already packed with an ideal-typical Bob Mould audience, populated mostly with very large men as Bob has made his way into DC’s Bear scene and the Bear scene followed. Pete grabbed me like a human cowcatcher and started yelling “short people coming through!” This sounds obnoxious, but I assure you, we were adorable. We were told as much. Anyway, we kept drinking until I was barely standing and grabbed a cab before the show was over and I hardly remember much of the performance. I vomited in the cab on the way home, which marks the very last time I threw up from drinking and even at the time I felt a little too old for that shit. The experience is forever tinged with an uncomfortable, regretful, guilty feeling and we never made it back to another Bob performance, but now laying all of this out, I need to prioritize getting back to see him.
Yesterday I posted a song I thought was originally recorded by Roberta Flack, but had this crazy prehistory before Roberta Flack even heard the original on an airplane and today I’m posting about a song I had no idea was written essentially in tribute to the Pixies’ “Debaser.” I dislike the Pixies, but I hate “Debaser,” so this new fact, along with the My Bloody Valentine inspiration is very funny to me. For as much as I love “That’s a Good Idea,” I never considered the lyrics that reveal the darker motif to be the driving theme of the song. Unlike “Debaser,” which sounds a bit like a murder, “A Good Idea” is poppy and light such that *I* at least think that it paves over story of a woman who asks a man to drown her. This is in spite of the very obvious “I’ve been waiting for years and I’d rather be dead,” which I always sort of thought was maybe a metaphor along with “and she screamed,” with references to his holding her head under the water? I thought it was about sex.
Musically, as I’ve mentioned the song is light and poppy. The bass line is persistent and I’ve seen it compared to a Kim Deal composition, which I guess I can see and closes the loop on the “Debaser” comparison. But the rest of the song is kind of herky-jerky. It stops and starts, slows down, and speeds up. The guitar is meandering leading up to the chorus (with the 90s’ Beavis-and-Butthead immortalized “cool part” trend called back). There are also lots of atmospheric guitar tricks that call to mind a watery death along with an actual water effect in the introduction. In the verses pops in and out to occasionally interject an almost nautical amusical yowl. I like this. The ocean is probably the easiest thing to evoke through art because it’s so specific but universal. I don’t get tired of it.
Sometimes an artist’s catalog gets too expansive and I get overwhelmed and stop keeping up. Bob Mould is one such artist. We picked up a copy of Silver Age, released shortly before the aforementioned Doomed Copper Blue Show. I listened to it once, loved it, and never picked it up again. There is too much Bob Mould out there. I need ten solid albums from any combination Husker Du, Sugar, and Bob solo, no more. Every artist has their limit. But I do hope in the After Times he plays DC as often as he has so that I can get a do-over on that 2012 disaster.