Blue Hearts, the new album from Bob Mould, opens with something of a fake out. “Heart on My Sleeve” is Mould with little more than his acoustic guitar, strumming a muscular but lean melody as he sings out a weary op-ed: “The rising tide of a broken government/ Gold boats are floating on cement/ And we’re going to war/ And we’re going to die.” It’s expression of anger delivered in a low-key manner, as if Mould is aiming at a political version of Workbook, his solo debut from decades ago. But that stark, simple two minutes is the last time Blue Hearts can be called low-key.
Across Blue Hearts, Mould regularly locks into a mode of fury that he’s only rarely approach in the many years since Hüsker Dü folded. Mould essentially acknowledges that he’s purposefully reclaiming the raw, ravaging sounds he used in his twenties. On “American Crisis,” he snarls, “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/ To come of age in the eighties was bad enough/ We were marginalized and demonized/ I watched a lot of my generation die.” There’s a bluntness to the sentiment that’s jarring and invigorating all at once, at not only because those lines represent one of the most direct acknowledgements Mould had made in song that he’s a member of the GLBTQ+ community. It is its own statement about the sorry state of the world that the veteran guitar slinger decided the only proper response was turning up his amps to paint-peeling volumes and singing plain truths.
The tracks on the album pile up on each other, one sizzling guitar chord that reverberates to close one song stomped on by the blast of beautiful noise that starts the next. And Mould and his band blaze through each number as if they’re racing an impatient 7th St Entry night manager who’s itching to lock up for the night. Even the comparatively mid-tempo cuts (“Forecast of Rain,” “Leather Dreams”) have a racing pulse. Elsewhere on Blues Hearts, Mould finds his way to the raucous pop of Sugar (“Siberian Butterfly”) and cascades of blistering sound that more clearly evoke his most recent records (“The Ocean’), but the album is mostly him reasserting his punk rock bona fides. He doesn’t do it in a wan reclamation of youth. He does it because the times demand it. Sometimes the only proper response is a yowl.