The first time I heard "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," I knew I was going to buy the new Bob Mould album Life and Times the day it came out. The moment I put it in the cd player, and "Life and Times," the title track and first song on the record, started up, I knew the record has great. I let the album spin, getting a first taste, a first impression. Little bits kept catching my attention - a sharp lyric here, a trademark guitar lick there, that unmistakeable voice, now even more mature and wise, and those unspeakably wonderful guitar tones, acoustic and electric.
From the first percussive snaps of acoustic guitar in "Life and Times," are just a precursor to the emotional fury that is coming, both in the first song and the whole album. "You're taking me back to the places I've left behind," Mould sings, "the old life and times." By now, Mould has mastered taking on old, festering romantic wound and turning it into expert pop songcraft. "Life and Times" kicks of this album with a bang.
"I know Superman couldn't stop the rain from find it's way in," Bob sings on "The Breach," and the hits just keep on coming. If you are looking for a mature album dealing with loss and heartbreak, you'd be hard pressed to find a better new release than Life and Times.
The album seems to borrow on all of Bob's career post-Husker Du. The acoustic songcraft of Workbook, the charged up electric alternative rock of Sugar, and the electronic sounds of Modulate and parts of his more recent records are all here. "City Lights (Days Go By)" benefits with the swirling keyboard accents that color the chorus. In fact, the song is a beautiful amalgamation of the best of Mould's talents. "City Lights" even contains a bit of the buried vocals we've come to know and love from Mould's best work, but so much as they were in the past.
The album benefits from a quick pace that keeps it surging forward, picking up steam as it goes. "MM 17" keeps things up, but "Argos" sounds like a lost Sugar gem, and has some of the Husker Du energy. It's pure pop-punk ecstacy, and at 2:03, it's the shortest song on the album. You're going to want to repeat it several times - it's that good.
"Bad Blood Better" begins with electronic string swells before quickly switching into acoustic ballad mode. "You deny that there's a problem," Bob sings, "you left your hand print on my face." The message gets through - when this is all the love you've got, "bad's blood better than no blood at all." The emotions Mould wrings from his old soul, and mature voice, makes this song hit you everywhere - the head, the heart, the gut, the groin. When you're hoping to God you die happy... it's as real and as personal as it gets. The Bob let's us in this close is astonishing, daring, and brilliant. He tops off the song with an energetic, angry blast of a guitar solo.
Life and Times really sounds like a mature, full, and important work - a statement. The type of things a younger or less experienced songwriter might be embarrassed to say, Mould shouts and whispers, out front and in your face. As dark as the record is - and it is, it is hard and dark and cold and rough like hate-sex - it's still punctuated by Mould's own very survival. The fact that he lives these cataclysmic heartbreaks, and keeps walking upright and proud (at least, after awhile...), this is where the hope and positive energy is in this record. Trust me, as off as that might sound, that Mould has survived to keep writing these diary entry and sniper shot songs makes you swell with pride. The two-punch blast of "Wasted World" and "Spiraling Down" reinforce this notion - the musical peaks and valleys of the record not only keep it moving along, but keeps it interesting from a storytelling standpoint, too.
By the time you get to "I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore," you're ready to admit all your failed love affairs, too. The internal reflection Bob brings to light in this song is staggering - it's an anthem for any lover, any where, who's ever been sad, broken, jilted, left behind, or moving on... just about anyone who isn't at this moment in a perfect relationship can relate. And those of us wistful individuals who like to hold on to our paths, it's a siren song call-to-arms. "Why I always find the broken ones, what does this say about me?" - he cuts to the bone. "I tried to heal you, I tried to fix you, I tried to show you compassion... I tried to listen, I tried to love you even though you were broken." It might be the most honest song of his career, a lifetime full of honest, heart-wrenching songs.
The record comes full circle with the closing track, "Lifetime." It is the longest and most electronic-sounding song on the album, but creates a unique atmosphere with it's fuzzy keyboard swells and xylophone pings. It's another brave step forward for an artist who never shies from taking chances with his art. The whole album builds to this moment - a lifetime of heartache, heartbreak, loneliness... and trying again, starting over, and moving on.
The last impression after several listens to Bob Mould's Life and Times is that is more than just a mature work by a mature artist. It's more like a cross section of an artist's tortured soul. There is nothing here to pity, nothing here to raise up emotionally - it's a factual statement. This is what love can do to you - it's part and parcel of throwing yourself out there to see what happens. The matter-of-fact nature of the lyrics and Mould's delivery and sincerity make it a joy and pleasure to not only listen to, but recollect and reflect with, too. Musically, it's one of Mould's strongest efforts - it sounds unrushed and comfortable while sounding fresh and energetic. If this record isn't proof that Mould isn't one of the greatest songwriters walking the earth, I don't know what is.
Do yourself a favor, buy it. Burn a copy for your car and for work. Just in case. Keep it for those trying, emotional days. Turn it up, way fucking loud, and revel in the fact that there's another soul out there like you who wants love, doesn't understand it, and keeps fighting for it tooth and nail. And when times are good, know you'll always have a friend waiting if they crash, a friend called Life and Times.