Review: Bob Mould—Sunshine Rock

by Ken Jobe (@booksofjobe)

When thinking of words to describe punk icon and forefather of alternative rock Bob Mould, some of the last on the list might be “sunny” or “optimistic”. And yet, with the release of the former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman’s 13th solo album, Sunshine Rock, Mould has managed to surprise yet again in a career full of subverted expectations.

From folksy, acoustic material, to dance-tinged electronica, to a brief non-musical stint writing scripts for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling(!), fans have never known quite what Bob Mould had up his sleeve. And while the opening strains of the title track kick off the album in familiar sonic territory, the lyrics make it immediately apparent that for the better part of the album’s 12 songs the listener is being guided into foreign territory coming from someone who’s lurked largely in the land of angst, anger, and melancholy: hope and positivity.

Bob Mould—Sunshine Rock (Merge Records, 2019)

In the opening verse Mould sings, “I won’t leave you in the dark,” and Sunshine Rock largely keeps that promise. The album, Mould has said, is influenced by his permanent move in 2016 from San Francisco to Berlin, Germany, and is buoyed by lyrics that are far more uplifting than one might expect.

In fact, three of the album’s first four tracks—the aforementioned Sunshine Rock, Sunny Love Song, and Thirty Dozen Roses—boast titles that, if they were the names of songs by almost any other artist so at the forefront of the punk and early alternative rock movements, might be considered to be dripping in irony.

That, however, is a trick that perhaps only Bob Mould is capable of pulling off: the ability to rock with the intensity of artists over half his age (he is only two years shy of being an sexagenarian) while singing lyrics entrenched in optimistic earnestness. However, lest you think Bob Mould is solely focused on rocking numbers, on the album’s third to last track he presents Camp Sunshine.

All photos by Alicia J. Rose

Over a chorus of clean guitars, Mould sings about an imaginary summer camp that appears to serve as a clear metaphor for the punk scene where he came of age, musically and literally. “I think about the kids we used to see,” he sings. “Some get sick and pass away; others find a different place to play. Believe me, there’s nowhere I’d rather stay.”

As Sunshine Rock reiterates, consistently putting out such great material makes it safe to say no one would want Bob Mould to leave anyway.

8.5/11 Ringing Ears