It’s too easy to call Sunshine Rock a happy record. Instead, it’s about the hard work that goes into arriving at a place of peace.
February 12, 2019 | by Ryan Bray
Locale has always played a substantive role in Bob Mould’s career. Purists will always associate the former Hüsker Dü frontman first and foremost with Minneapolis, but his many subsequent moves have equally defined the music he’s made since. Upstate New York gave him the space and solitude to launch his solo career in earnest (1989's Workbook). His time in Washington, D.C. and New York City helped him embrace electronic music and his identity as a gay man (see 2002’s Modulate and his work with the dance duo Blowoff). In San Francisco, he wrote a memoir (2011's See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody) and returned to furious rock 'n' roll form.
Now in 2019, Mould finds himself settled into his new digs in Berlin. And if Sunshine Rock, Mould’s 13th solo record and fourth with Merge Records, is any indication, he’s pretty happy with his current lot in life as a European expat. Four of the record’s 12 tracks, after all, make explicit reference to “sun” — setting up what would appear to be the record’s theme. Add in the orchestral touches scattered throughout (“Sunshine Rock,” “The Final Years”), and we’re looking at one of the most overt pop offerings of Mould’s long career. After three decades of punching through various shades of gray, the record leaves listeners with one overarching question: At 58, has Bob Mould finally found peace and happiness?
He's getting there. Life in Berlin certainly seems to have put Mould in a healthier headspace following two records defined largely by loss (2014’s Beauty & Ruin and 2016’s Patch the Sky). At the same time, listeners shouldn’t read too much into Sunshine Rock’s comparatively optimistic lean. Happiness has never come easy to Mould as a songwriter, and his latest still finds the singer busy with unloading emotional burden. “I can feel the undertow around me, and how it takes down everyone around me” he sings on "Irrational Poison."
Lyrically, Sunshine Rock is defined by a want for closure, a need to put the past behind him. Mould acknowledges the difficulty of letting go (“You’re in my memory, you’re in my history, you’re in my everything,” he admits on the power rock ripper “I Fought”). But he also seems in a better position to weather personal storms, having come a long way from his younger, angrier self (“Where did I put my sense of misplaced rage,” he asks on "The Final Years").
It’s too easy to call Sunshine Rock a happy record. Instead, it’s about the hard work that goes into arriving at a place of peace. Bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster once again offer powerful sonic support to Mould’s vision, and the trio sounds as tight here as ever. But the album is just as powerful in its quieter moments. The acoustic “Camp Sunshine,” arriving near the record’s end, celebrates the calming influence music continues to have in the singer’s life.
By the time the record closes with "Western Sunset,” Mould seems ready to drop the baggage and write his next life chapter. “After all this madness passes, we’ll rebuild our world fantastic,” he sings. To that end, Sunshine Rock sounds like the work of a guy ready to put shovels in the ground.
Watch the video for "What Do You Want Me to Do"
Watch the video for "Lost Faith"