In my locker in high school, taped up between a record store display poster of Bleach and a portrait of Michael Stipe that I drew in art class, was the (actual CD) cover of Hüsker Dü's 1984 tour de force Zen Arcade.
The cover's image was of a photocopy of a photograph of an auto salvage yard, which drummer/vocalist Grant Hart filled in with colored pencil. Hart, singer/guitarist Bob Mould, and bassist Greg Norton are gray silhouettes, moving within this odd landscape almost as separate entities, lost in their own worlds.
Zen Arcade was the bridge between the band's hardcore past and its distinctively more polished, emotionally nuanced, and melodic later sound that more or less formed the template for the next two decades of post-punk. (Krist Novoselic once said Nirvana's sound is "nothing new, Hüsker Dü did it before us.")
But because I was a child of the 1990s (but not a child in the 1990s, mind you), Mould's later band, Sugar, was actually my gateway drug to Hüsker Dü. Copper Blue (1992) cemented its place in the '90s canon—inspired by My Bloody Valentine, on the heels of Nevermind, and paying homage to the Pixies. The album was the biggest popular success of his career to date.
Since then, Mould's catalog has kept growing—since disbanding Sugar, he has released 11 solo albums, with few disappointments among them, adding up to an expansive and successful career. That's more than most solo artists can say after leaving the bands—twice—that made them famous.
When he has made a misstep, it has tended to be when he has strayed (often intentionally, in the service of experimentation) from his tried-and-true formula—forceful, dense guitars played at breakneck power-pop speed in support of his crystal clear, masterful songwriting.
Mould's latest, Patch the Sky (2016), is true to this form and harks back to Sugar more than any of his solo albums yet, with triumphant riffs and lyrical sentiments that can turn from upbeat to dismal before you even get to the chorus. This album leans toward the dismal, though, and Mould says that although it may be his "darkest album yet," it's also his "catchiest."
Having played in two bands that meant so much to so many people, Mould is always up against the eternal challenge of the veteran solo performer: balancing the audience's love for the past with his own enthusiasm for the new stuff. And the recent tragic death of his former bandmate Grant Hart at age 56 has obviously cast a larger-than-normal Hüsker Dü–shaped shadow over Mould's current solo electric tour. The Seattle show will be held at the Crocodile, a much smaller venue than Mould typically plays, which should make for an intimate experience.
These days, especially, there's no sweetness without a bitter edge, no "catchiest" without a little "darkest." Few artists seem better equipped to deal with this frustrating truth than Bob Mould. It has been part of the essential nature of his music all along.