Is it time we give Husker Du a critical downgrade? Does anyone listen to their albums anymore, whether old heads or young? It seems they’ve gone from being this all-important band in underground rock in the ‘80s to a mere footnote to more influential bands that would follow in their wake: Nirvana and The Pixies. The Pixies, for cryin’ out loud, seem to have eclipsed Husker Du in critical acclaim and influence on indie rock bands! Bob Mould spinning techno records at a DC disco these days has eclipsed his hard-earned legacy in Husker Du! Now, non-fan that I’ve always been, I thought even the best Husker Du songs sounded like well-intentioned punk-pop mush, but come on, these guys ruled the roost! Now they’re a footnote to the history of The Pixies? Let’s examine.
Husker Du, of course, stormed out of the quickly overrated Minneapolis punk scene alongside The Replacements. (The Replacements – now there’s a band that isn’t so much forgotten by its initial fans but perhaps left behind for more grown-up things. Do Today’s Kids even buy Replacements records? Townsman Kpdexter, when’s the last time they even spun a Replacements record in that coffee shop we frequent?) Soul Asylum was part of that scene too, playing kid brother to The Replacements and eventually eclipsing big brother’s level of success to the consternation of all those bands’ fans. It hurt like hell when your underdog from the Twin Cities cranked out hits that would have sounded right on a Britt Ecklund-era Rod Stewart album, didn’t it?
Getting back to the subject at hand, remember the artistic credibility that Husker Du had? They weren’t just punks trying to make music that sounded like outtakes from Atlantic Crossing; they had an almost British punk/art rock approach that I found appealing…in concept. Their big double album – I’m blanking on the title as I fly somewhere over the midwest, but I recall a really bad cover – was accompanied by tales of them dropping acid and telling the engineer to simply hit RECORD while they bounced off the walls and let it all hang the fuck out! The album’s centerpiece, I’d read in initial reviews at the time, was some 17-minute long song that supposedly went where no punk band of that era had yet gone. I remember borrowing that album from a friend and being tempted to go right to that song. “They took handfuls of acid and then let it rip!” my young, excitable self thought. Instead, I dropped the needle on track 1, side 1 and waited for the great moments of insight. The long song came and went, and I was not getting what all the fuss was about. The best songs sounded a bit like the Buzzcocks, in structure and melody, but where the Buzzcocks created a tight, vibrant burst of sound that I could almost touch, Husker Du sounded like they recorded inside an empty aluminum beer can. Bob Mould played open chords (ie, “cowboy chords”) on that Marshall-amplified Gibson Flying V. Who wants to drop acid to play open chords on a Flying V? The mustachioed bassist, Greg Norton, and babyfaced drummer Grant Hart, a real waste of long hair, hammered away as aimlessly. They dropped acid for this? I dropped acid for this?!?!?
Shortly thereafter Husker Du, like REM and The Replacements, would become among the first wave of American “college rock” bands to sign with a major label. The bigger budget afforded to them did not help in either their production or their album cover design. Few bands turned out such a string of mushy, aimless album covers – to the point that maybe you could judge a book by its cover. The Replacements were quickly exposed. REM was able to navigate its new opportunities better than anyone could have imagined. Poor Husker Du just fizzled. Then Bob Mould put out the austere Workbook album, which recast his rebel yell in a Richard Thompson setting. Grant Hart faded away with his demons and Greg Norton, the one stereotypically gay-looking guy in the band would turn out to be the lone straight member and a chef to boot! But you know all this.
What I want to know is, what happened to all the folks who cared so passionately about Husker Du?