A lot can happen in a year and a half. In February 2019, Bob Mould released Sunshine Rock, which in addition to reminding us that in the 2010s he was in the midst of an unexpected renaissance and making some of the strongest rock music of his life, saw him embracing a cautious optimism, celebrating the joys of life and focusing on the hard work of being a better man. September 2020 has brought another album from Mould, Blue Hearts, and his mood has taken a sharp turn into rage and frustration. Between life in a divided nation, the ongoing threat of climate change, and a global health crisis that is being ignored by the powers that be, Mould has stopped ignoring the multiple elephants in our rooms, and Blue Hearts is a fast, furious, passionate broadside, messages written as the world burns around him (in some cases literally). The opening track, "Heart on My Sleeve," opens the program with a midtempo litany of emergencies, and with "Next Generation," the songs shift into high gear as Mould and his rhythm section -- Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster on drums -- attack the music with an aggressive focus that's bracing and unrelenting. The sound of Blue Hearts bears a certain resemblance to the music Mould made with Hüsker Dü in its physical power and lack of emotional compromise (and the doom-struck ranting will seem familiar to those who've spent some time listening to '80s hardcore), though there are some clear differences. Without the presence of Grant Hart, Blue Hearts lacks the sweet undercurrent to buffer the impact of these songs, and 36 years after Zen Arcade, Mould is a more focused and precise musician and songwriter, a sure hand with a melody despite his uncompromising stance. (He also hasn't lost his gift for concision -- only one of these 14 songs runs over three minutes.) For sheer force, precision and fervor, Narducy and Wurster are the best band Mould has ever had, and while chops aren't everything, especially with this sort of punk rock assault, Blue Hearts sometimes sounds like the record Hüsker Dü wished they could have made, with the same heart and velocity and a skill set they never achieved for all their brilliance. Even when Mould isn't obsessed with the current apocalypse, "Everything to You" and "Leather Dreams" take on a new kind of urgency, as if love, relationships, and self-acceptance may be our only defense against the rising tides. Blue Hearts is a cry of purifying anger in a dark time, and its heat produces a truly necessary light; it's one of the very best solo albums Mould has given us to date.

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