August 1, 2009

NT's greatest hits, No. 17—an amendment



The great thing about my "greatest hits" blog series is that it forces me revisit those songs that are ingrained in my psyche. Tasked with writing about them, I listen from a fresh angle, and develop an even greater appreciation for them (usually—one entry on the list was cut after I relistened to it and realized it doesn't quite deserve the honor. Still Peter Gabriel's best song, though, and still an awesome video).

So last week, when I wrote about "Could You Be the One?" by Hüsker Dü, it got me going back to the entire catalog from the band, and reaffirming my blogged conviction that it was perhaps the best American rock group of the mid-'80s. And I maintain that "Could You Be the One?" is their finest hour, but I must retract this quote: "I still think Warehouse is Hüsker's best album."

Wrong: 1985's Flip Your Wig, I've come to realize, is a nearly perfect piece of hard-rock crafstmanship. Straightforward yet experimental, bracingly angry yet tender and touching—three wasted-looking guys smashing out brilliant music, making it look easy. This is the essence of genius. Flip Your Wig was also Hüsker Dü's last album for indie label SST, before they were scooped up by Warner Bros., where they recorded the middling Candy Apple Grey, and then bowed out with the excellent Warehouse (now my second favorite of their albums). Thus it represents a band on the verge, at that tense moment of asking themselves if they'll stay true to what inspired them in the first place. The songs ping-pong between introspection ("Makes No Sense at All," possibly the closest thing the band ever had to a hit, deservedly so), rage ("Divide and Conquer," the Byrds as nihilists—clever), and even straightforward sentiment ("Green Eyes," the best punk love song ever), packed with effervescent passion, and you can feel the growing tension between songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart. Thankfully, they never sold out or watered down on the major label, but perhaps that cost them the future of their band.

But seriously, listen to Flip Your Wig; some great benefactor to mankind has uploaded most of the Hüsker catalog to the Web, so if you click on the image at top, you can listen to the first quarter of the album (go to Songza for the rest).

Just wanted to set the record straight. Some fresh musical commentary soon…

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