3.5 stars (out of 4)
Bob Mould is in full-on looking-back mode, with last year’s autobiography (“See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody”) and the recent 20th anniversary reissue of the first Sugar album, “Copper Blue.” His new album, “Silver Age” (Merge), echoes his past as well. Like “Copper Blue,” it’s a brisk power-trio album that compresses 10 tracks into 38 no-time-to-mess-around minutes. But there’s nothing particularly nostalgic about it. It’s acerbic, anthemic and fiesty, as if Mould were tapping his countless disciples, from Foo Fighters to No Age, on the shoulder before throwing a knockout punch.
If not presenting Mould in a new light, “Silver Age” affirms what he does best: Discontented lyrics, melodies that wrestle for supremacy with sheets-of-sound guitar, a propulsive rhythm section (made up of tour mates Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk's Jon Wurster on drums, who play with gusto throughout). The vocals are more of a musical element, sitting in the same range as the guitars. Wordless harmonies give the hooks a little more oomph.
The narrators in these songs muse about aging, corrupted hopes, last stands. “Never too old to contain my rage,” Mould sings, words that will reassure fans who might’ve fretted about the more measured approach that dominated recent albums, with their more craftsman-like arrangements and balance of acoustic instruments and electronic textures.
“Silver Age” boils Mould back down to guitar, bass and drums. It sounds impulsive, impatient, as if the band had an afternoon to knock off these songs before scattering. When the opening guitar riff from the title track arrives hard on the heels of “Star Machine,” it qualifies more as an interruption than a segue.
There are two slight departures, both terrific. “Steam of Hercules” arrives halfway through and it’s slower, more deliberate as it builds what sounds like a thousand guitars into a mountain of din that My Bloody Valentine might envy. “First Time Joy” brings the album to what initially feels like a contemplative close, with wistful lyrics and melancholy orchestration. But soon enough the guitars come crashing through for one last charge.