Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sugar - Copper Blue - 1992

I'd dabbled a bit with Hüsker Dü in 1991, but I'd found that a lot of their songs were a little too abrasive for me, so Sugar wasn't really on my radar when their first album came out, but I was hanging out at the Antequarium in downtown Omaha one Saturday and "A Good Idea" was playing in the record shop downstairs. I asked the guy behind the counter and he told me it was a band called Sugar, from their first album, "Copper Blue," which had just come out. No mention of Hüsker Dü, and I didn't make the connection of the vocals. Then the song appeared on stalwart 120 Minutes, and the second time around was enough to convince me I was interested. We were at Westroads Mall on Monday after school so I swung into a music store and picked up a copy of the album, and for the next few months, I think I played that CD a lot more than I should've.

Sugar was formed by singer/guitarist Bob Mould after Hüsker Dü broke up. And the story of Hüsker Dü's collapse is too complicated for me to get into here, so you can go look that up on your own. After Hüsker Dü, Bob decided he wanted another band, so he got a new bassist and a new drummer and formed Sugar. Sugar didn't veer too far from Hüsker Dü, but it polished some of the harsher edges off and tried to glaze a layer of pop sheen over them. Critics of the time called it "grunge-pop," "noise-pop," and, most stickingly, "power pop." It's easy to see why the power pop label stuck - the album is full of big, buzzy guitars, but the songs are catchy, accessible and stick in the brain, with great hooks. It was a great change of pace in a time when it felt like everyone was trying to be a Seattle band - Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains were all big draws, and it seemed like lots of bands wanted to jump in on that bandwagon, but Sugar were going the other direction. Instead of gloom and doom, Sugar wanted as much sunlight as they could get. Even the slightly depressing songs were uptempo.

Given the sort of tumultuous nature of Bob Mould, it wasn't really any surprise that Sugar only made it to two albums (the second being the less-great-but-still-great "File Under: Easy Listening"), although this was mostly due to the bassist, David Barbe, wanting to spend more time with his family. Since that time, Bob Mould's mostly been going it alone, although in 2012 he did a tour replaying "Copper Blue" in its entirety for it's 20th anniversary. I'm still sad I missed that. I leave you with the crown jewel of the album, "If I Can't Change Your Mind."

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