Rating:A funny thing happened to Bob Mould in 2012: after years of rejecting it, he finally seemed to not only accept, but embrace his past. It was evident on his face to fans who saw his trio tour behind the re-release of Sugar’s Copper Blue that year: there was Bob Mould, anecdotally the most depressed man in indie rock, smiling and having a blast as he tore through “Helpless,” “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” and other classics. It was just as evident on the album he released that year, Silver Age, which was as close to a vintage Bob Mould record as we’ve ever gotten. It seemed as if Mould had gotten a second artistic wind by revisiting what he referred to in his autobiography as the best years of his music career. That vigor has carried over to his newest album, Beauty & Ruin, and it’s sure to please fans who are happy to have Mould back as a viable musical force.
Most of Mould’s post-Sugar work was characterized by its writer’s defiant loneliness, by Mould’s desire to be the sole contributor and conductor of whatever he was doing. However, something changed when bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster were brought on for Silver Age. Mould is really in his element as the main cog of a band, rather than as an adrift solo artist, and Beauty & Ruin’s best moments serve to emphasize that. The band helps make some of Mould’s more deliberate classist tunes, like “Little Glass Pill” and “I Don’t Know You Anymore” resonate at something more than pastiche. When the trio blast through more punk-inspired songs like “Kid with the Crooked Face,” they do so with a tightness and precision that you do find yourself wondering why more young punk bands aren’t following Mould’s work more closely. Backed with a band as dedicated and as passionate as he is, his work on Beauty & Ruin is as vigorous as ever.
Of course, a Bob Mould album wouldn’t be a Bob Mould album without some sharp turns of phrase, and Beauty & Ruin has every lyrical aspect of his work that fans love. “I Don’t Know You Anymore” is vintage Mould, akin to classics like “I Apologize.” Better still is “Hey Mr. Grey,” an ironic take at Mould’s status as an alt-rock elder statesman with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. As it turns out, he’s a pretty funny guy. When he’s serious, though, as he is on the epic mid-album track “The War,” Mould remains a performer of intense power.
Still, anyone familiar with Mould’s solo work will tell you that there’s more than a few slip-ups or failed ideas on all of his albums, and Beauty & Ruin is, sadly, not an exception. His recent work being more unified in scope, it’s hard for any of Mould’s new songs to fall flat save for an uninspired performance or an uninspired melody, as is the case with “Nemeses Are Laughing” and the forgettable closer “Fix It.” Then, there is the inexplicable “Forgiveness.” Seemingly included to break up the monochromatic nature of a very guitar-focused album, the light touch of Mould’s keyboards and the clean, electric strumming only make what was sort of a cheesy song into even more of a sore thumb.
As a whole, though, Beauty & Ruin is mostly a triumph. Mould has found a balance between his history and his constant forward momentum that few musicians his age ever achieve. While he never actually left, it feels as if Bob Mould has come back after a long absence, and it’s been well worth the wait.