Mould v. Hart: The Final Battle!

Felt the urge to listen to Husker Du’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories the other day, and since this album has been characterized as a battle between the band’s two songwriters (Mould in the grips of untreated depression, Hart in the grips of heroin addiction), I though it would be fun to actually rate the songs and call a winner.

Disclosure: Hart is the underdog here and in most critical appraisals of Husker Du, despite the fact that he wrote some of the band’s best songs. And let’s just be frank here: there are three listenable songs on Candy Apple Grey, and all of them were written by Grant Hart. (Mould lays the blame for the band’s breakup on Hart’s addiction and his own lack of compassion (well, Mould doesn’t say this, but I read his autobiography and he showed no compassion or empathy for Hart’s mental health struggles which is rich because he’s had plenty of his own), but I can’t help feeling like he was also smarting a little bit from Hart getting the lead single on Candy Apple Grey.

I shall do my best to be objective, but I’m hoping Hart will pull out a victory. I shall rate every song on a highly objective 1 to 10 scale.

“These Important Years”—killer melody, killer opening riff, but I’ve never cared for songs that take the form of advice for the listener. Also Mould mined this vein of nostalgia much more successfully in “Celebrated Summer.” 7/10

“Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope”— “it was his aluminum that attracted her to him” is a great line. Chorus is catchy and rocks, though I can’t figure out how it relates to the verses, if at all. Seems to maybe be making fun of its protagonists, which I do not care for. 6/10

“Standing in the Rain”—absolutely classic Bob Mould pop punk, and, what’s more, sounds like the finished version of the halfassed “Eiffel Tower High.” Melody, lyrics, performance—everything works here. 10/10

“Back From Somewhere”—Really artful, melancholy breakup song, and the last line is perfect. Also, Hart seems more interested in rhyme than Mould does, and he drops a bunch of really satisfying couplets in this one. 8/10

“Ice Cold Ice”—Mould’s gift for melody salvages an otherwise unremarkable song. We may disagree, but I think “Ice Cold Ice” is a pretty weak turn of phrase to hang a song on. 6/10

“You’re a Soldier”—Absolutely the worst song on the album. It’s not that I disagree with the anti-military content (though I prefer to see the blame laid at the feet of the politicians, generals, and CEOs who feed young people to the death machine), but those lyrics! Jesus, it’s like he wrote them when he was in the 7th grade! Unbelievable that the guy who wrote “Pink Turns to Blue” also wrote this turd. A puerile embarrassment that should have been left off the album. 1/10

“Could You Be The One”—Another pop punk gem from Mould. Also uncharacteristically upbeat by Bob’s standards in that the lyrics at least hold out some hope of a happy ending. 9/10

“Too Much Spice”— Great verses, terrible chorus. Also, “too much spice” as a metaphor for drugs or whatever is pretty on-the-nose for a white guy from Minnesota. You’re coloring your life with too much spice! Have a nice jello salad instead! 4/10

“Friend, You’ve Got To Fall”—Mould’s take on the “hey, you’re doing too many drugs, I’m worried about you” theme that Hart explored in the previous song. The juxtaposition doesn’t do Hart’s song any favors, as this one’s better in every way. Hampered a bit by the banality of the chorus. 6/10

“Visionary”—I dunno, man. It rocks, and the melody is catchy, but, like, what the hell is this song even about? Other artists have built careers on songs that are impenetrable unless you happen to be the songwriter (lookin’ at you, Elvis Costello!), but I don’t think it’s a good color on Bob. 6/10

“She Floated Away”—and here comes a sea shanty, because why not! I love that Grant is flirting with magical realism here, and it seems like he’s doing a collage about misogyny a la Graham Parker’s “Get Started, Start a Fire” (which came out two years later, but you take my point), but then he kind of ruins it with the last verse that shifts the focus to men and doesn’t tie the song together despite being a “what it all means” pronouncement. 7/10

“Bed of Nails”—Strong melody, but an overlong dirge in which Bob strains the metaphor to the breaking point. Skippable, and in fact when I used to listen to this on vinyl, I’d usually start side 3 after this one. 4/10

“I’ll Tell You Why Tomorrow”—inoffensive, but there’s just not really anything particularly interesting going on here. I like the cuckoo clock at the end. 5/10

“It’s Not Peculiar”—I like the chorus. Otherwise pretty unremarkable, except that Bob doesn’t seem to have the vocal chops to deliver the melody he wrote. 4/10

“Actual Condition”—The song that usually kept me from skipping side 3 altogether. Upbeat ray of sunshine with a rockabilly flavor on an otherwise quite dreary album. (Lyrics are intermittently dark, but the music is fun!) Probably the first glimpse of fun on a Husker Du album since “Books about UFOs.” Even Bob’s solo is fun! Also, on a record rife with overlong songs, this one gets its business done in under 2 minutes! 7/10

“No Reservations”—Really good lyrics, but the song is kind of meandering. Tries for some uplift at the end, but Bob just can’t sell the line “if we’re together we’ll have a happy time” as well as he sells “sit by a lake and cry.” It’s poignant, but not really the kind of thing I often feel in the mood to listen to. 7/10

“Turn it Around”—Killer riff and, again, a poignant look at someone clutching at happiness amid misery. I’m not a punk rock purist or anything, but the keyboards on this track have not aged well. Nor has the cheesy acoustic/electric guitar tone on the solo. Great chorus. 7/10

“She’s a Woman and Now He is a Man”—Journalistic look at a breakup with a great, catchy melody. I read the title to mean that the breakup is the first time the guy has faced any consequences for his actions, and therefore the event that turns him into a grownup. Can you write a (post) punk song that rocks AND shows emotional maturity? Apparently you can! 10/10

“Up in the Air”-Solid, and I like the quiet-loud dynamic on the verses as well as Grant’s echoey, ethereal backup vocals on the chorus. Bob’s gift for melody is on full display. Still, at this point in the album, I’m looking for a knockout punch, and this isn’t it. 7/10

“You Can Live at Home”—Whereas “She’s a Woman…” was examining a breakup from a distance, here we’re right in the thick of it, and everything works together perfectly as the song builds to the title being sung over and over as the band gets noisier and noisier, Mould solos at length, and the whole thing is held together by an uncharacteristically funky bass line. I don’t know if Grant was playing with the idea of the band’s upcoming breakup or if it’s about the end of a romantic relationship, but either way, it’s an absolutely perfect way for the band to sign off. 10/10

OKAY! Final Score! As I write this, I have no idea who’s going to win!

Bob: 11 songs, so 110 possible points.

FINAL SCORE: 73/110 66.4%

Grant: 9 songs, so 99 possible points

FINAL SCORE: 58/99 58.6%


Bob is the winner here, largely due to the inclusion of the execrable “You’re a Soldier” In other words, while Grant’s best songs are every bit as good as Bob’s best songs, Grant’s worst song here is WAY worse than Bob’s worst. Still, I hope my completely objective rating system has put to bed the myth that Husker Du was a one-songwriter band.