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The Boston Phoenix Sweet Ending

Bob Mould's last waltz

By Gary Susman

AUGUST 31, 1998:  Here's Bob Mould's own review of his new album, The Last Dog and Pony Show (Rykodisc): "I like it enough," he says over the phone from his NYC apartment. "I honestly liked the last record [1996's Bob Mould] a little better. It was more personal. But this one's the party record, as party as my stuff gets. It's a good record, I guess. In the grand scheme, this one'll do. The upbeat records, I'll take 'em when I can get 'em."

As the disarmingly candid singer/guitarist notes, Dog and Pony is not one of his wounded, introspective dispatches but rather one of the "upbeat" albums he has traditionally released every other time at bat throughout his career -- from the legendary Hüsker Dü years in the '80s to his first two solo albums to his second great power trio, Sugar, in the early '90s to solo artistry again. It's been a long haul, and as its title suggests, the new CD marks the end of an era. On it, Mould plays most of the instruments, with help from drummer Hatt Hammon. After this album and the accompanying tour, which hits Avalon on September 24, he'll bid adieu to punk rock and touring with an electric band, going unplugged ever after.

Explains Mould, "I've been in the punk-rock style of delivering music for almost 20 years. I'm 37 now. I love doing what I do, but there's a place and a time for angry, aggressive loud guitars with me jumping around and venting. And I don't feel those emotions as strongly as I did when I was 20. I would like to put it to rest before my heart's not in it. I don't want what I do to turn into either a lie or a parody of itself.

"More important to me personally is just the amount of dislocation that happens in my life when I put bands together and tour for months at a time. I lose my grounding, and I start to lose my friends. As I get older, my friends and my home and some sense of stability are more important to me than going around the country for five months at a time. When I do acoustic touring, it's usually for 10 days at a time, and then I come home for maybe 10 days."

In the meantime, Mould certainly hasn't lost his gift for melodic, piledriving rock. Dog & Pony offers a reassuringly familiar, Sugar-y set of tunes, mixing his trademark roaring guitars and chiming vocal harmonies into sonic peanut brittle, sweet and satisfyingly crunchy. Whether the music is mosh-ready, major-key pop ("Taking Everything," "Classifieds," "Moving Trucks,") or anxious, dramatic ballads ("New #1," "Who Was Around," "Along the Way,"), his lyrics continue to dissect failed relationships with a bracing astringency. The disc's only departure is "Megamanic," where Mould raps doggerel over a lumbering hip-hop groove.

"That was just a reaction to me hating the record I was making. I had a little freakout a couple weeks into the recording. It was all going really well, and the songs were great. But I just went, 'Aaugh! Can't I do something else? How many times am I going to make this record? It's too easy.' So I spent a couple days messing with loops and weird sounds. It's not a parody. It was done in earnest. I know the rap is pretty weak. I was just making shit up. That was about the best I could muster up on a day's notice. What am I going to do, get up there and sing about guns and crack? Two things I've never touched. But I think the audio track is da bomb."

Mould dismisses attempts to read too much into his lyrics, especially inferences about his personal life. "Obviously, these songs are about my world and how I see my world, but are they specifically about me? No."

Specifically, he has worried that listeners will make assumptions because he is now widely known to be gay. "It's funny. Why wait till '94 to make a big deal about me being queer when everybody knew it anyway? It was because I finally sold a quarter of a million records. I hit the gossip threshold. The risk one runs is that things that are part of who I am become magnified to become my only reason for being, and then they overshadow my work. Like, 'Oh, that's a queer love song.' No, it's just a love song. It's like, if you want to ask me about me being queer, that's great, but don't stick it on my songs."

Of course, Mould's body of work might merely suggest to listeners that he's in need of Prozac. "The biggest misconception people have is, 'Oh, Bob is this dour, depressed guy who is dark and introspective all the time.' Well, sometimes, but everybody is sometimes. My life is actually pretty average and pretty dull. I have a knack for putting words and music together in an interesting way, and sometimes I get lucky and do it in a way that people can relate to. That's what we have with this record. Sometimes the stories are very oblique, and people never find a way to relate to them. That was the record I made two years ago."

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