Husker Du Series Part 3: “Land Speed Record” Review
Five out of Ten
1. Side One 2. Side Two
Note: Sorry I don’t go into individual track names here. On the CD, they are all stuck together as if they are one song per side. I know that’s not the case, but it’s annoying to transcribe song lists to the blog. So I’m taking a stand for laziness. So there.
By 1981, Husker Du had been together for two years. They had honed their hardcore playing chops to a completely unbelievable level. The band was a legend of the punk and hardcore scene of Minneapolis as well as around the country. However, they had yet to record or release any music. This problem was rectified in 1982 with the release of their debut album, “Land Speed Record.” It is legendary for speeding through a record breaking 17 songs in 26 seconds. It showcases the band playing a blur of hardcore punk that is truly faster than any of their contemporaries. It was released by Mike Watt on his “New Alliance” label and re-released on CD by legendary independent label SST.
Whoa whoa whoa! Didn’t I just spend two, rather lengthy articles extolling the virtues of this band? Haven’t I claimed that they have earned their “legendary” status and that their influence can be felt up and down the radio dial? I stand by that statement. I also stand by the statement that “Land Speed Record”…well, sucks is a harsh word. It is easily their least essential, least interesting and least successful album.
Let’s start with the most obvious problem with the album, the one that even defenders of the album will have a hard time denying: it sounds awful. I’m not a major “sound” quality guy. As long as I can hear the music and it sounds all right, I’m happy. I know there is allegedly a difference between analogue and digital recordings and that vinyl records are supposed to sound better than CD’s. I’m not gonna lie to you kids: I really only notice the smallest difference. .In fact, I mostly buy CD’s due to their convenience. I mean, I can listen to them in a car. Try listening to a record in a car: it could be done with a lot of extension cord and patience but it hardly seems worth the effort.
Whoa sorry about that digression. The basic point I’m trying to make here, sound quality is not the main criteria for which I judge an album. However, the sound quality of “Land Speed Record” is actually the main problem with the album. It was recorded live to two track in August of 1981. And it sounds worse than most bootlegs: in fact, it’s actually worse than the infamously awful, bootleg sound of the King Crimson album “Earthbound.” Everything sounds like a wild blur of noise, with an occasional scream or cymbal crash echoing in the ear drums and causing severe migraines.
However, another major problem with the album is the material. This album presents Husker Du as the world’s fastest hardcore band: it does not present them as the world’s greatest hardcore songwriters. Each song speeds by as fury of guitar noise, bass thumps and incomprehensible screaming. I understand that’s kind of the point of hardcore, but it’s maddening here because the band doesn’t even attempt to write melodies. Humming one of these songs is more difficult than telling them apart. There are no pauses in between the songs at all, rendering them as one giant, epic hardcore song of unbelievable lengths.
Reader’s may be confused at this point to see that I have rated this album a five out of ten. I just spend the last however many words bashing the life out of the album. I still don’t even own this album despite it being readily available at the local independent record shop, “Vertigo.” But yet I rate it five stars. I guarantee you this isn’t due to me being a complete wimp when it comes to reviewing: I promise many hilarious one star reviews in the near future.
No, this album earns its five stars for one simple reason: it’s exciting. This album captures the excitement and rush of Husker Du at their finest and most primitive. Yes, it would be nice to hear some hummable melodies or distinctive arrangements. Hell, it’d be nice to hear Grant Hart’s drums. But the blur of energy that comes from this album simply cannot be found anywhere else in the Du’s catalog. Or, for that matter, on any other album I’ve ever heard.
Listener’s cannot simply listen to one song off of this album: it has to be experienced in one large rush of sound. SST seemed to realize this as, rather oddly, there are only two tracks on the CD edition: side one of the original record and side two. After all, I can’t even imagine the type of weirdo that would want to hear the 57 second blur of “The Big Sky” out of the context of the album. No, one must commit themselves to the album completely, just as they must do in the hardcore mosh pits of the world.
And this makes the album incredibly unique in the world of rock. It is the only album I’ve heard that so fully replicates the wild rush of being in a hardcore mosh pit as a band plays as fast as possible. Your blood starts pumping immediately when the album starts and, if you’re the type (I’m not but I can pretend to be) you suddenly find yourself thrashing about wildly and letting off some of that childish angst. Not recommended as casual listening but as a nice little piece of occasional catharsis.
Tune in next time as I review an album that has actual music on it: their studio debut album “Everything Falls Apart.” That review will discuss the album itself (a ridiculous 12 songs in 19 minutes, even shorter than “Land Speed Record”) as well as the bonus tracks Rhino added to their CD reissue, “Everything Falls Apart (and More).”