Like many iconic musicians, Bob Mould has spent a considerable portion of his career rebelling against his own iconic status. Immediately after the dissolution of Husker Du, Mould backed away from the furiously over-amped Midwestern pop-punk template he helped create, opting instead to make 1989′s brilliant, largely acoustic singer-songwriter record, Workbook. Then, after forming and dissolving another excellent tinnitus-inducing pop-rock band, Sugar, he bid an official adieu to guitar rock with 1998′s The Last Dog and Pony Show and embraced electronic music. Mould eventually returned to so-called “dog and pony shows,” releasing a series of more-or-less rock records starting with 2005′s Body of Song that included traces of his electronic experiments. But only lately — with 2012′s Silver Age and especially on the new, oft-thrilling Beauty & Ruin — does Mould seem fully reinvigorated by plugging back in.
Helped in no small part by a stellar backing band composed of Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and longtime bassist Jason Narducy, Mould proves that he’s in a class by himself when it comes to pounding out acidic confessionals. In the case of Beauty & Ruin, Mould’s angst is derived from the loss of his father and a broader struggle with his own mortality. But where Mould’s previous work was often distinguished by irreconcilable despair, songs like “The War” are balanced on Beauty with relatively serene tracks like “Forgiveness” and the album-closing “Fix It.” The music, meanwhile, is cranked to the red, and just hearing the familiar hum of Mould’s axe on the glowering opening track “Low Season” will be enough to send loyalists into hysterics. But Mould remains as one of the very finest songwriters working in this form, with songs like “I Don’t Know You Anymore” and “Tomorrow Morning” delivering instant pleasure as kinetic riff machines and lasting resonance as postcards from a personal reckoning.