Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Savage Young Dü Reminds Me Why I Love the Hüskers

Sometimes it takes a while for a band to get their sound together, figuring out their focus and what they want to achieve. The CD edition of Hüsker Dü's Everything Falls Apart album (their first studio album but second full-length release) included, among its bonus tracks, their debut single, "Statues" b/w "Amusement." Following the tight, sometimes violent songs from the album and the equally fantastic "In A Free Land" single, these early songs feature little of what was too come. Grant Hart's "Statues," presented in an uncut eight-minute version when the single version was already two minutes longer than it needed to be, sounded like PiL without the rumbling bass (Greg Norton was playing higher on the neck than Jah Wobble ever dared). Bob Mould's "Amusement" lumbered on for too many verses, angry without a way to channel it. Perhaps Hüsker Dü was just another band in their earliest days.

Boy was I wrong on that count.

Yesterday, after reading about it and hearing people coo over it, I picked up Savage Young Dü (Numero Group), the four-record and hardcover book box set that chronicles the earliest activity of Grant Hart, Bob Mould and Greg Norton. Maybe it's not Zen Arcade but the music here - and, full disclosure, I still have one more record to listen to - just pops with excitement. While their official album debut, Land Speed Record, made the band sound like a simple hardcore band, and Everything Falls Apart refined the sound, the trio already had plenty of ideas of what they could do from the early days. The poppier elements, which came to the fore on Flip Your Wig and the two Warner Brothers albums, were already in the mix from the early days. Mould's yowling approach to the guitar was already there, and he could straddle that with some sharp hooks from the get-go.

Some of the early songs might sound a little quaint at first blush. "Can't See You Anymore," with its age-old tale of "your Mom and Dad don't like me" is somewhat amusing, as are tracks like "Insects Rule the World" and "Industrial Grocery Store." But they're delivered with the same fire power that was the group's m.o. during their SST days, so it carries this music. The songs - and there are plenty here that the lads worked up only to scrap them just as quickly - convey the excitement a band feels when new songs are brought in and everyone realizes that they're on to something: Maybe things aren't totally together yet, but it's already clear that things will gel before too long. In the meantime, it feels really exciting.

I tried to get a shot of the spine to convey how thick the box is.
That's Record one on the side of it. Records 2-4 and the book are in the box.

Growing up in the early to mid '80s, I didn't fully discover Hüsker Dü until Zen Arcade. I knew about them and heard that they were more than a thrash band, but I hadn't gotten around to them yet. Of course I devoured that album and New Day Rising, which seemed to come out mere months after its predecessor. At the same time, they couldn't top the Minutemen, who seemed to be tuned into weirder stuff that struck a chord with me. Today, it's apples and oranges, of course. But the Minutemen also seemed to confuse most of the young punks I knew, which only sent me on more of a crusade.

Ironically, while the Minutemen were the ones who I wanted to be, there was no way I felt like I'd ever play the bass like Mike Watt. When I saw them live, I swore he didn't touch the E string for the first half of the set, so busy was he walking all over the rest of the neck.

Hüsker Dü, on the other hand, was the band that - to some degree - I felt like I aspire to be. I might be able to play bass like Greg Norton, simply but heavily. I could certainly yell like Bob Mould. And Grant Hart wrote the kinds of songs that I wanted to write, taking punk sensibilities and wrapping them in catchy hooks. There was hope for me.

The music reminds me of all of that. The story conveyed in the book tells how it came together, out of necessity and out of a huge desire to create. As their friend Terry Katzman says in the booklet, "They weren't onstage to talk, play games and tune their guitars. They were there to play, and play as smart and as hard as they could."

And to top it all off, in listening to "Statues" and "Amusement" amidst all the other songs, they have an urgency and power that I didn't catch on Everything Falls Apart and More disc. Good mastering job, guys!

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