Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Album Review: Husker Du - Zen Arcade

1984's Zen Arcade was a substantial leap forward for Husker Du.  Although many of the tracks were still delivered at breakneck speed, staying true to their punk roots, it's a sprawling double album with 23 tracks and 70 minutes of music.  A sort of Exile On Hardcore Street. 

On initial listening it's hard to digest, but several listens in you'll be hooked. For there are some really great riffs here.  Bob Mould's Something I Learned Today, and Chartered Trips have speedy, complex riffs.  Beyond The Threshold was surely the inspiration for Pearl Jam's Spin the Black Circle.  Further into the album, the unpromisingly-titled hard-rocker Whatever, is surely a guitar god performance by Mould and a standout on the album, laying the groundwork for future classics.

It's not all about fast guitar riffs either.  As early as the third track, Grant Hart slows things down with the Elvis Costello inspired, acoustic Never Talking To You Again, and also delivers a riff that can only be described as wobbly on What's Going On.  Standing By The Sea is a wonderfully lurching track, while Pink Turns To Blue is glorious power-pop drenched in fuzzy guitars.

Less interesting are random nonsense like Dreams Reoccuring, which spawned a longer, thirteen minute version in final track Reoccuring Dreams, and Hare Krsna, while Pride and Masochism World are throwbacks to Husker Du's less melodic, hardcore past.  We even get brief piano interludes One Step At A Time and Monday Will Never Be The Same.  Later, penultimate track Turn On The News is something of an almost obvious rock anthem.

An album of this length with so many tracks is never going to be anyone's favourite Husker Du album, there's simply too much going on, too many different directions.  But it's full of guitar-driven gems, none of which could be described as immediate but stick with it and it pays off.