This is the last of the classic (i.e. everything but their debut) Husker Du albums I’ve listened to. And, not coincidentally, it seems to be the least well regarded. (I regularly start with bands’ best regarded albums.)
At this point both Mould and Hart are fully developed songwriters, and arguably they’ve been that way for a little bit. But it’s pretty clear, to me at least, that the best songs these guys wrote for this band came closer to the end of their career together. They got better at the “craft” so to speak. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, in part because one of the things that’s so appealing about Husker Du is their willingness to take risks within the prism of hardcore. But, of course, by this point, that’s kind of over.
I think the reason this and Warehouse are disliked by some fans as much as they are is that it certainly feels like the band have lost their edge, at least some of the time. (Though, to me, something like “Crystal” sure doesn’t sound like that.) At this point they’ve settled into something much closer to “alternative” or “emo” than their earlier post hardcore madness. One thing that’s interesting to think about is what this music would sound like had it not been so influential – like if we weren’t subjected to emo for the last 30 years, would these ballads sound less cliche?
As with basically every Husker Du album, the sound kind of sucks. I have no idea what the issue is from a technical standpoint, but a remastering project that resurrected the full power of this band on record would be something to attempt. Now, I suspect it would have been done already if it was possible so it seems we’re stuck with one of the most significant American bands of the ’80s sounding shitty in perpetuity.
Warehouse was, for some reason the first or second Du record I ever heard and certainly the first I owned. So I have a fondness for it that I can’t get over. Also, I find its ambition – far less ambitious than Zen Arcade of course – a little more appealing than the restraint of this and Flip Your Wig. And I also think that it’s probably a better set of songs. So I think I’m ready to say that this is the least of the classic Du records. It’s still good, production aside, and it’s certainly just another feather in their cap for their claims to preeminence in ’80s American alternative rock. But it’s the least essential record they made since their debut, I think. (I say this authoritatively though I have never heard their debut. So that’s something.)