Hüsker Dü are the dividing line in American punk rock.
Hüsker Dü are the dividing line in American punk rock in many ways. They mark the point where punk became about the personal over the political and where punk began acknowledging the musical past it had been so eager to overthrow. They’re also unique in that they’ve rarely been the subject of hagiographic cash-grabs, something that can be attributed to the band’s integrity and the members’ inability to get along. It’s fitting, then, that Savage Young Dü, the first re-issue of Hüsker Dü material to involve all three band members, focuses not on their SST-era heyday or their move to a major label, but on their humble beginnings as a group of Minnesota teens in love with punk rock and intent on playing as fast as possible.
Savage Young Dü is sorted chronologically, following the band’s career up until their jump to SST in 1983. Thus, the collection tells a story of a band finding its feet and developing from capable imitators into wholly original songwriters in their own right. Early tunes like “Can’t See You Anymore” are charming in their simplicity and show a knowledge and reverence to ‘60s pop, a trait that didn’t become prevalent in the punk scene until later in the decade. Their influences are readily apparent, but it still feels fresh considering that their contemporaries were mostly concerned with playing with speed, rage and little else. Furthermore, the unreleased live material here shows that the band had more than ample power early on in their career. The intensity and chaos often associated with the Hüskers’ live shows is laid out here for all to witness. Sure, the band are still really rough around the edges, but their youthful exuberance is infectious. On these recordings they sound like the most fun college band that you ever went to see, only their songwriting skills had already surpassed that of your local Bad Company cover band.
There’s a distinct shift in tone and subject matter between Hüsker Dü’s earliest recordings and the material that makes up the latter half of Savage Young Dü, much of which was officially released but never reissued until now. The material on the band’s debut album Land Speed Record very much lives up to its title, with Bob Mould, Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton making it their mission to make the loudest, fastest, most intense album ever recorded. (A recording of the band playing the entirety of Land Speed Record is also included and accomplishes the mission of the title even more so.)
Of arguably greater import is the “Statues”/”Amusement” single, seen by many as the band’s first stab at breaking into the “college rock” bracket. There, you can see how the band’s early stabs at mixing punk energy and dissonance with melodic pop paid off. Then, there’s Everything Falls Apart, presented here with a new mix based off of previously unreleased tapes. The muddy, dingy proDüction of SST house proDücer Spot is gone, replaced with something crisper and clearer while still retaining that DIY feel. This how the band likely imagined themselves sounding on record, and it’s a treat to see that realized.
Savage Young Dü is exhaustive and detailed to the point that it might be kind of intimidating, but it’s absolutely essential for anyone with an interest in this period of music. In their time, Hüsker Dü made some of the most vital music ever heard in rock, and their influence can be heard through any strand of punk that followed them. Savage Young Dü contains a crucial link between what Hüsker Dü started as and the great band they eventually became. Plus, it’s fun as hell to listen to.