On Silver Age, Bob Mould reclaimed his history after several years that could reasonably be characterized as messy (which doesn’t mean altogether bad, but his explorations sometimes verged on aimlessness). He followed that with Beauty & Ruin, expanding the scope of his productively nostalgic creativity to deliver music that sounded like every skipped stone ripple of his career gathered together to formulate something just new enough to turn heads anew. Now we come to Patch the Sky, which feels like the end of a trilogy. This time, Mould is settling into a comfortable mode, or as comfortable of a mode as his somewhat acerbic lyrical outlook will allow. When, on album opener, “Voices in My Head,” he sings, “To all the ghosts and demons and all the words they said/ I decide to listen to myself,” it counts as a triumph of hope on the Mould Scale.
Overall, the album is instantly recognizable as Mould’s work and yet not all that distinctive, as if any number of these songs could have been slipped into the runout groove of one of his earlier records without sending eyebrows upward. I keep feeling the urge to refer to the end result as “Generic Bob Mould,” but that casts a negative connotation on the music that’s not at all deserved. Instead, think of it as a sort of “Bob Mould Starter Kit,” delivering all the sonic signifiers that have been an ear-rattling comfort since at least the point Hüsker Dü decided embracing smart pop structures wouldn’t undermine their punk credibility (or least that they didn’t give a shit about anyone else’s assessment of their punk credibility). It’s the album that can be given to a novice as a test case. If they like this, they might be ready for the pricklier stuff.
That agreeable solidity invites a reactive overvaluing of the tracks that offer up a hint of the unexpected, such as the little pulse of funk under the skin of “Losing Sleep” or the thundering album rock radio guitars of “Daddy’s Favorite” (which could almost deceive the inattentive into believing its a new Foo Fighters single, at least until Mould starts singing). Difference can be a necessary part of an artist’s progression. Not always, though. Mould is currently locked in enough that comparative standing-in-place songs (“Hold On” and “Losing Time,” for example) have just as much fire. If none of these immediately strikes the ear as a new classic in Mould’s songbook, nor are there any stiffs. This Mould hale and satisfied in his old pro status, showing the whippersnappers how it’s done. And he’s making it look easy.
(image found elsewhere)