Mould has been in an enjoyable groove for a while now, and Sunshine Rock definitely keeps that going.
Bob Mould’s recent run of albums has been regarded as a return to form in more ways than one. After a few years of electronic experimentation and less than inspired solo albums that yielded mixed reactions, starting with 2012’s Silver Age, Mould seemed to rediscover his groove by once again linking up with a crack rhythm section (bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster) and playing the sort of hard-driving, emotionally resonant rock that made him famous with Hüsker Dü and Sugar. These three albums (Silver Age, Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky) seemed to be of a piece, recorded with the same personnel and focusing on the sort of personal angst that fans of Mould’s work were familiar with. Sunshine Rock arrives with Mould backed by the same personnel, yet the album has a decidedly different tone. After a few years of working things out and getting stuff off his chest, the Bob Mould of Sunshine Rock is more interested in looking back on his life and, surprisingly, seeking out the positives.
Obviously, given that Mould is making this album with many of the same people who helped make his previous few albums, Sunshine Rock is an absolutely propulsive affair. The title track’s booming drums and loud, up-tempo guitars give the listener a real kick in the ass right at the start. Later on, tracks like “What Do You Want Me to Do” and “Thirty Dozen Roses” are very much of the “classic Bob Mould” style and wouldn’t sound all that out of place on previous albums. Fortunately, few can write these sorts of breakneck punk songs like Mould, so even the more familiar aspects of Sunshine Rock are as welcome as ever.
Yet, one can’t escape the fact that there’s something distinctly different about Mould’s perspective here. It’s right there on the title track, which ends up being a “let’s-get-away-from-the-world” love song that seems decidedly out of place from the author of indie rock’s most searing kiss-offs. “I Fought” focuses on regret, but there’s none of the venom that characterized Mould’s earlier dabblings with the subject. Then, there’s “Camp Sunshine,” the first real instance in Mould’s career where he seems to be taking a look back at where he’s been, and he looks at that life not through a lens of sorrow, but one of appreciation. On an album that just keeps going at a rapid pace, this moment to stop and reminisce stands out all that much more.
Mould has been in an enjoyable groove for a while now, and Sunshine Rock definitely keeps that going. Yet this effort feels considerably different from those records. In recent years, Mould has spent his time publicly working things out, either on his albums or through his memoir. Sunshine Rock feels less like Mould working things out and more like a breath of relief. After years of railing against the world, Mould sounds ready to enjoy it as best he can.