It seems almost reductive after four decades to describe Bob Mould—who has over two dozen albums under his belt, played in three different bands and a spectrum of sound covered—as a punk artist. That comes with the territory when the first thing on your résumé is legendary hardcore trio Hüsker Dü, a band both groundbreaking and enduring in their blistering speed-freak punk rock raveups, all of which bore the distinct mark of the band’s great songwriting, the bulk of them stamped with Mould’s own signature melodic mayhem. Punk is perhaps not always what he does, but even after all this time, it’s still part of who he is.
“Heart on My Sleeve,” the first song on Mould’s 13th solo album Blue Hearts, isn’t punk rock in its sound, featuring just a stark recording of Mould’s voice and acoustic guitar. The song is quiet, but Mould’s anger is palpable from the first couplet: “The west coast is covered in ash and flames/Keep denying the winds of climate change.” Though recorded nearly a year ago, he describes a scene that looks a lot like the catastrophic, apocalyptic state of California—where he now lives—just a couple weeks ago. Mould wastes no time in getting off his chest a frustration that’s been building up in recent years—a frustration familiar to most Americans in recent years—and before even making it two minutes into Blue Hearts, he kicks up the distortion, cranks up the tube head and dives headfirst into his most pissed-off, urgent album in years.
The brightness and hope of 2019’s Sunshine Rock hasn’t been abandoned on Blue Hearts, necessarily, but it takes a backseat to a more politically charged approach. In other words, Mould has made his best truly punk album in years, and it’s a goddamned beautiful thing to hear. The explosion of roaring guitars on first single “American Crisis” is a punch to the gut in the best way, still employing the power-pop hooks that Mould has honed and perfected over the past 30 years while holding fast to an urgency that makes for the best system of delivery for lines like, “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/To come of age in the ’80s was bad enough.” The subtler, acoustic-tinged “Forecast of Rain” is prettier in its dark tones, but still harbors a necessary hostility, Mould directing his barbs toward the same kind of religious institutions that turn a blind eye to injustice: “Almighty spirit so high on your throne, I have a question so simple to answer, won’t take long/This love thy neighbor thing, does it apply to all mankind?/Or only those who fit neatly inside your narrow lines?“
Blue Hearts moves quickly, as Mould and his band burn through one two-minute ripper on to the next. In fact, only one song—the soaring closer, “The Ocean”—actually crosses three minutes. Everywhere else on Blue Hearts, Bob Mould uses up only as much space as he needs to, indicting the corruption and hypocrisy that have become staples of American society with only as many words and chords as he needs. It’s angry, it’s loud and it’s efficient, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun—let it never be forgotten how much of a blast it is to hear the Twin Cities rock legend turn it up and let loose. In a consequential election year, in a time when everything feels like it’s about to come bearing down on us from above, Blue Hearts is the kind of album that provides the strength and motivation to push the fuck back.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.