Compositions for the Young & Old, Pt. 19 | Bob Mould, “Body of Song” (2005)

Returning from a long regrouping period, Mould learns how to rock again.

 

 

Jason: And we’re back!
Mike: So where did we leave off? Oh yeah, Bob in retirement from touring as a full band, doing his dance music. This was around the time he moved to DC and truly began to discover who he was.
Jason: It’s only appropriate that we end up running late starting with Body of Song, an album that was supposed to follow Modulate by just a few months but instead took three years.
Mike: I for one am glad he took three years to work on this one. If he put another Modulate out, that would have been a disaster, in my opinion.
Jason: Body of Song was meant to be the polar opposite of Modulate at first. Long Playing Grooves was the pure techno record, Modulate was the techno/rock hybrid, and Body of Song was originally intended to be the subdued, singer-songwriter stuff. At the time, I remember him referring to it as “Workbook 2” when he was working on it.
Of course, it didn’t end up being that, either. Only a few of the songs from those original acoustic 2002 sessions ended up on the record, “High Fidelity” and “Gauze of Friendship,” two gentle acoustic strummers which notably feature Sugar’s David Barbe on bass.
Mike: Instead, we get a much more muscular effort that I feel is a better blending of Bob’s dance side with his rock side. At least far better than Modulate acheived. I think what we got was an album that tried to show all facets of his music.
Jason: Yeah, that’s what Body of Song is, basically the realization of what Bob was aiming for with the Modulate experiment. It still has the electronica elements, but they’re mixed into Bob’s style a lot better. They no longer stick out like a sore thumb.
Mike: Nothing here sticks out as glaring missteps, thankfully. I like the electronica elements that he adds to several of the songs. Instead of letting them dominate the song, they enrich them with extra layers of sound. Great examples of that would be “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope,” “Paralyzed,” and “I Am Vision, I Am Sound.” (And “Shine Your Light” contains your favorite audio/vocal modulation.)
Jason: Would you believe I actually really like “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope”? One of the biggest differences (not to keep harping on it): a live drummer! Brendan Canty (of Fugazi fame) lays down a pretty slick little groove there. The lyrics are a little simplistic, maybe, but it’s a nice sentiment delivered with a hook that sticks in your heard. It’s certainly much, much catchier than anything on Modulate.
“I Am Vision, I Am Sound” isn’t too shabby either. It’s definitely got some of the slickest bass work Bob’s ever laid down on record.
Mike: Several of the songs have a much funkier beat and bass groove to them. I’m attributing that to the dance side of Bob.
I am surprised you like “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope,” but more from the repetitive nature of it than anything. It’s one I typically include in a workout/riding mix. Same for “I Am Vision.” The grooves on both are great for working out.
Jason: I like super-catchy electronic music in general, just Bob’s particular flavor of the genre doesn’t appeal to me more often than not. “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope” is a notable exception.
There’s actually a lot of neat bass stuff going on on this record. That weird burbling sound on “Always Tomorrow,” for example.
Mike: Yes, it goes really well with the different guitar measures and tone that Bob is employing. It’s a super thick and syrupy tone, almost shoegaze which is not his normal overdriven distortion tone. That bubbly bass sounds pretty fantastic on some high-end headphones.
Really the only drawback I have with this album are “Days of Rain” and “High Fidelity,” and more the latter. And I only say that because of the way Bob is trying to sing on these: trying to go into that higher range singing just is not his strength. Which is a damn shame, because lyrically both songs are strong and musically they are nice, warm, slow tempo tracks. “High Fidelity” features some really good guitar from Bob and nice use of an electric piano and keys. It’s just that way he’s trying to sing is a little….off. But then he follows up with the Sugaresque “Missing You” to rock you out again.
Jason: That’s the thing that’s amazing about Body of Song: it’s got a variety that really isn’t present in most Bob records. Bob’s sound tends to vary a lot from album to album (a dead horse we’ve been beating for this entire project!) but individual albums tend to be fairly unified within themselves.
But here, you’ve got the gentle acoustic stuff, the disco/electronica stuff, the Sugary “Best Thing” and “Missing You,” the dirgy BSoR-style “Circles” and “Underneath Days,” stuff like “Paralyzed” that’s more in line with the pop stuff of the day (Kelly Clarkson needs to cover that ‘un!)…the songs are all over the place. Yet the album doesn’t sound schizophrenic.
Mike: Very true. He’s kinda all over here. I do have to say that the brief time away from rock seemed to inspire his guitar playing. We already know he’s a gifted player, but he’s really good here. “Beating Heart the Prize” is a damn good showcase of that.
Jason: I got to interview Bob for the first time around the release of this record (which you can read here) and he made a joking comment about “reconciling [his] disdain for [his] own stuff” in learning how to write loud guitar rock songs again.
I mean, it was 7 years between LDAPS and BoS. Considering how much he changed in the 7 years Hüsker Dü was together, it’s unsurprising how many new tricks he has up his sleeve here.
Mike: As far as the album proper goes, “Gauze of Friendship” and “Beating Heart the Prize” are a pretty fantastic duo to go out on. “Beating Heart” is just an excellent closer.
Jason: I actually don’t like that song all that much, believe it or not! It’s tough to put my finger on why. I don’t know, I think the abstract lyrics remind me a bit too much of “Author’s Lament,” the dud of a closing track on Modulate. That clanging guitar riff is nice, but the song doesn’t quite congeal for me. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it’s not a song I get excited over.
Mike: That really surprises me.
Jason: [shrugs] I dunno, man. Not my jam.
Mike: And that is the nice thing about this album, there is something for anyone here
Jason: Yeah, for sure. Although when it comes down to it, for me this is an album with a lot to like but not much to really love. It’s a solid album, but despite the wide range of material, there’s not really any peaks or valleys. It’s pretty much all good, but I wouldn’t say that any of it is great.
Mike: It is a really strong album. A good step after Modulate.
The one thing that cracks me up about that song “ah-ah, AH-ah” thing over the intro, which was totally, TOTALLY stolen from Avril Lavigne. Which Bob even admits to here: “The front part of that song I stole from Avril Lavigne by accident. I think Green Day stole it too.”
Mike: Ha. It’s a universal thing. Or Avril really is an innovator. (No.)
Jason: I think the song is just too long for me, and the lyrics don’t connect. Again, not a bad song, but it’s not something that jumps out at me in the context of Bob’s overall discography, either.
It’s a big, sprawling album closer that’s another in a long line of sprawling Bob album closers like “Whichever Way the Wind Blows” and “Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace.” But those tend to be my least favorite Bob closers…I’m more drawn to the punchier stuff like “Man on the Moon” and “Explode and Make Up,” or the gentle stuff like “Along the Way.” The only big, sprawling Bob’s closer that leaps to mind as one that connects for me is “Roll Over and Die.”
Mike: True, true. I forgot that you are not the biggest fan of the longer, sprawling cuts.
Jason: When it was originally released, Body of Song was also available in a (now out of print, but not too hard to find) deluxe package that contained several bonus songs and remixes. The bonus tracks are as all over the place as the album itself: a couple acoustic weepers, a couple rockers, a few electronica remixes. You just heard them for the first time. Your initial thoughts?
Mike: For the most part, I enjoyed them a lot. As bonus tracks go, these were better than most. The remix of “Paralyzed” was particularly good. Bob’s solo on “Castor and Pollux” = wow. The two remixes for “Shine” I could have done without.
Jason: It’s interesting, this is the only album Bob put out since Hubcap in 1996 that has had any bonus tracks/B-sides. You can really see how difficult the birthing process must have been for this album.
“Castor & Pollux” is a really interesting track. It’s not a very Bob Mould track at all. The guitars sound almost Britpop to me, but the rhythm and vocal tracks are on the dancier end of the spectrum.
Mike: Me being the Britpop nut might explain why I liked it so much.
Jason: “Surveyors & Cranes” is the money track here for me, and the one that makes it worth ponying up the extra dough for the deluxe edition. The recording sounds a bit unfinished, like it was a demo that he decided to clean up for a bonus track but not give the full polish to.
“Love Escalator” is a fun one. It’s Bob in full-on disco diva mode, and the song is just so ridiculously over the top that it works. Again, it feels like it could use a little more polish, and I’m surprised he didn’t hold onto it as something for Blowoff.
Dogs & Ponies
Mike: “Circles,” “Paralyzed,” “Best Thing,” and “Missing You” are my top tracks. “Days of Rain” is up there as well. “(Shine Your) Light” and “I Am Vision” are really good also. And then of course “Beating Heart the Prize,” which we discussed earlier. I do not have a lot of bad things to say about this album. I do agree with you, it’s not a blow-the-building-down greatness that anything from Sugar is, but it’s a very strong effort from someone who is looking to find his place back in the music world after shifting genres and taking time away. He’s recharged, creative, and passionate in this effort.
I wouldn’t call it a dog but High Fidelty is my least favorite only because the vocals. Musically and lyrically, it’s very solid.
Jason: Yeah, quality-wise, this is a very even record so there aren’t really songs that stand out in either direction. That said, I generally am drawn to the songs here that don’t really have an analogue on other Bob albums. “Best Thing” and “Missing You” are fine but Bob’s done the same kind of straightforward guitar-pop songs before, and done them better. (I’m thinking specifically of “Your Favorite Thing” or most of the rest of FU:EL.)
The same goes for the two acoustic tracks, “High Fidelity” and “Gauze of Friendship,” which are solid tracks but their somewhat clunky lyrics and overly labored vocals pale in comparison to the unassuming beauty of something like “Vaporub.”
I tend to lean more toward stuff where Bob’s tough guitar chug mixes with electronica elements like “Circles” and (especially) “Paralyzed.” And the two big dance tracks, “(Shine Your) Light Love Hope” and “I Am Vision, I Am Sound” are probably his best in that genre. I also like the menacing sound of “Underneath Days.”
Mike: Menacing is a good description.
Jason: It’s funny, I don’t usually think of Body of Song as a front-loaded record, but I really do like those first five tracks just a smidge more than the rest of the record.
Mike: it is stronger up front, but there are some good tracks spread to help carry it. It’s a good sign that I don’t skip any songs when I listen to it.
Final Grades:
Mike: Overall…..hmm. B-. It’s a very solid effort
Jason: Being a super-nerd, this grade is one I’ve debated a lot. I think back to what I said during the discussion of Long Playing Grooves, how generally the As are going to be the albums that any self-respecting music fan should own, period, end of story, and Bs are the stuff you would recommend people explore next. Body of Song is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but is it required listening? I think that bumps it down to a C+. That’s a couple notches above Black Sheets of Rain (I certainly listen to it more than that album) but a couple notches below Hubcap or FU:EL. That feels about right to me.
Mike: That is fair enough. No, it’s not required listening, not like anything from Sugar, LDAPS or the last two albums.
 

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