Saturday, August 05, 2017

File Under: Easy Listening (1994)

During the great grunge apotheosis of 1994 I seemed to be spending most of my time listening to the Pet Shop Boys, for what that's worth, to accompany all the crises of the time, personal and otherwise. But the noisy rock albums were well piled around as well. How could they not be? If I never quite caught all the way up with F.U.E.L. (and/or FU:EL, the alternative titles for this alternative album by one of alternative's favorite sons, Bob Mould), I plead undue fascination with the Sugar EP of the year before when I was in the mood for Mould blasts, Beaster, plus my certain (if passing) exhaustion at that point with aural sludge. Checking in with the internet now, I see the album is regarded in some quarters as the single best by Sugar, with hosannas for the scrubbed cudgel of Mould's production and the surprising tunefulness at the center of the welter, a well-known Mould feature. I mean, wasn't he a key part of inventing exactly thatt? Some hailed FU:EL as a rare species of true power pop. Others noted Mould's appreciation of My Bloody Valentine's dynamics of pummeling attack and winsome melodies. (In turn, MBV have to be counted as acolytes of Husker Du in the first place.) I pass these points along by way of context and general interest. Sometimes, for me, the much vaunted tunefulness here is little more than a kind of sing-songy monotony ("Your Favorite Thing," "Gee Angel," "Believe What You're Saying"). But I can't deny how often it works on me even so, especially with regular exposure, as things in this set continually reveal themselves—in the guitar play, in the hooks, in the mix, in the words, in whatever worked. Take the lift from David Bowie's "Heroes" for "What You Want It to Be," for example (sans Fripp's part unfortunately), which once recognized is almost as audacious and shocking as it is apt. Because actually it is apt—Bowie and the hulking grungers (and the hardcorers before them) were equally outsider freaks, and the best understood the point of melody. But also, however you want to argue it, there's nothing new going on here either—nothing new to power pop, or to Bob Mould, or even to putting pretty music inside roaring music. In that way, F.U.E.L. is a little conservative, more a summation than innovation, which you probably already knew. It's worth spending time with too, if you didn't.

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