Saturday, 7 May 2016

Album Review: Patch The Sky by Bob Mould (by Omar Ramlugon)

A musician’s ageing can inspire many things, as its inevitable arrival can produce a wide range of outcomes. In the case of some, like a certain Eric Clapton, it seems to herald an inexorable decline into complete and utter dad-rock irrelevance. Seriously, whoever thought the acoustic version of ‘Layla’ was a good idea needs a kick in the balls. In other cases, although they choose not to go back to the raging or otherwise unreachable areas of their youthful days, they instead pursue a different musical path, which ends up being rewarding and unique in and of itself; Blake Schwarzenbach’s work with Forgetters is testament to this. And then there’s Bob Mould.

To preface this review, Patch The Sky was unfortunately produced in the outcome of another shattering tragedy in much the same way Beauty and Ruin was before it; Mould’s mother passed away before its release date. Now, at the not inconsiderable age of 55, anyone would understand and forgive the man if he retreated to grieve, coming out with an album of softly plucked, acoustic driven laments. He’s touched on this territory before, with the rather lovely Workbook – but it appears that he’s again chosen to confront what can only be darkly ruminative thoughts on the nature of life and mortality in another album of explosive power punk. A decision which, I’m happy to report, is another qualified success.

Things open with the swirling, shifting ‘Voices In My Head’, which is more than a little reminiscent of Sugar’s epic ‘Hoover Dam’, and here Mould gives vent to the aforementioned subject matter which runs throughout Patch The Sky. The music itself is thick and hazy, echoing the sense of near helpless which Mould espouses in the lyrics. That is, until the end, where he rejects it all and refuses to allow grief and sadness to swallow him whole; “No more time to listen to the voices in my head / […] I decide to listen to myself.

After this relatively meditative opening, what follows is a veritable supermarket sweep of towering, thunderous alternative punk that somehow touches and invigorates rather than wallows, a trick that Mould has perfected over his long and fruitful career. ‘The End of Things’ is a superb kiss off that could apply to many things, be they eras of life or relationships, or even both at once; ‘Hold On’ churns with a tough, chordal riff that while Mould dips deep into his past to try­ and catch those who have passed him by; “Shadows and memories / They can’t be saved, I watch them floating out to sea.” ‘You Say You’, ‘Pray for Rain’ and ‘Lucifer And God’ may be three of the best songs on the whole album, with winning hooks and hard charging melodies abound; as usual, Mould’s rhythm section of Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster prove themselves yet again to be a class act. ‘Pray For Rain’ is of particular note, being an affecting look at depression’s ruinous effect but yet avoiding becoming too maudlin by being settled within an explosively uplifting rock song with a paint-peeling solo from Mould.

Elsewhere, the band touches on new territory with ‘Black Confetti’, dropping the tempo but deploying some of the heaviest riffing yet seen in Mould’s career – the break midway through showcases a nose-bursting riff that would have Quicksand clenching their teeth in jealousy. ‘Losing Time’, on the other hand, tumbles along at a pace and with a vigour that reminds you just how influential Mould’s work is on so very many bands, while ‘Monument’ ends where things began, thumping along on a steady, anthemic groove while Mould finishes the album with a particularly pithy couplet; “I never ever learned / But that’s my way.

Patch The Sky is the third in a trifecta of outstanding records by a man whose work remains consistently powerful, affecting and worthy of your time, if you have even a passing interest in guitar music. It’s hard to tell at this rate if he will ever slow down. For our sake, let’s hope he never does.

Stream and download Patch The Sky here: 

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