POUR SOME SUGAR ON… Bob Mould & Sugar

As
evidenced by expanded, deluxe reissues of the Sugar oeuvre, the punk hero’s
third act was every bit as powerful as the two that preceded it.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

Whether he likes it or not – and one clearly gets the sense
that he doesn’t – Bob Mould’s albums with Husker Du will always be his most
beloved by fans. While it achieved levels of popularity that Husker Du only
dreamed of, Mould’s second band, Sugar, isn’t talked about nearly as much.
Hopefully, Merge Records’ deluxe reissues this week of Sugar’s entire output –
two albums and an EP, as Copper
Blue/Beaster Deluxe Edition
and File
Under: Easy Listening Deluxe Edition
– will start to change that.

 

With 20 years hindsight, it’s clear that Sugar’s debut, Copper Blue, is among the best albums
Mould ever made. Yes, that includes his Husker classics.

 

Like all of Mould’s finest work, Copper Blue melds raw power and emotion with hooks that lodge
themselves in your head and don’t leave. Its first five songs – from “The Act
We Act” to “Hoover Dam” – would form a perfect album side if people still
listened that way. 

 

Mould was simply on a tear at this time. The Beaster EP, which consisted of leftovers
from the Copper Blue sessions and is
packaged with it, has some of the most intense music of his career. It’s not an
easy listen, but it is incredibly personal and powerful.  Even the B-sides from this era are uniformly
excellent. “Needle Hits E” in particular could have been a staple on MTV’s
college rock arbiter 120 Minutes had it been released as a single.

 

A 1992 concert that comes with Copper Blue also shows a band at the top of its game. After two
solo albums that were not as well-received as Mould probably hoped, you can
feel how hungry he and his new bandmates are to prove themselves. The set
starts off with the punishing opening riff to “The Act We Act” and never lets
up. It’s an exhilarating listen, with an unhinged rendition of “JC Auto” and a
moving “The Slim” in particular highlights.

 

 

 

As prolific as Mould was during the Copper Blue sessions, he didn’t have quite as strong a batch of
songs in hand for Sugar’s next and last album, File Under: Easy Listening. It’s a good album – “Gift,” “Gee
Angel,” “Believe What You’re Saying” and “Explode and Make Up” are all
essential parts of the Sugar catalog – but it’s also the only Sugar album with
tracks that don’t quite connect. The reissue benefits from the addition of
b-sides, some of which are stronger than songs that made the album.

 

The real reason to buy this one is the bonus disc, a 1994
concert from Minneapolis.
After two years of playing together, Sugar is firing on all cylinders.  But buyer beware: this show was originally
packaged with a long out-of-print b-sides compilation titled Besides, so big Sugar fans from back in
the day may already own it.

 

Both reissues sport improved sound quality and are chock
full of photos, ticket stubs and headlines from back in the day. Best of all is
a booklet that offers a fascinating oral history of the albums and tours that
followed. Those who read about them in Mould’s recent autobiography will be
especially interested to hear the same stories told from the point of view of
the other players involved – not just band members, but producers and label
execs too.

 

And there’s more goodness to come for Mould fans. He says
his solo album, Silver Age, which is
due this fall, was inspired by revisiting Sugar’s albums. Based on an early
listen, there’s good reason to be excited; it might just be his best solo
album.

 

As for the reissues, Copper
Blue
is essential – a 10. File Under:
Easy Listening
is less so: a 7. We’ll average them out to an 8.5 and round
up.

 

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