Husker Du Series Part 7: New Day Rising
1. New Day Rising 2. The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill 3. I Apologize 4. Folk Lore 5. If I Told You 6. Celebrated Summer 7. Perfect Example 8. Terms of Psychic Warfare 9. 59 Times the Pain 10. Powerline 11. Books About UFOs 11. I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About 12. How to Skin a Cat 13. Whatcha Drinking 14. Plans I Make
Ten out of Ten
After releasing “Zen Arcade,” Husker Du became even more renowned critically. However, they didn’t sell any more albums. A dense, harshly produced hardcore album simply wasn’t going to shift a lot of units, no matter how melodies the band started integrating. However, this didn’t really stop the band from charging forward.
In fact, it barely slowed the band down. In fact, the band went into the studio in July 1985 to record the follow up, which was the same month “Zen Arcade” was released. The album was released in 1985. It featured a mere 14 songs as opposed to the sprawling 23 of “Zen Arcade.” It didn’t have an immediate storyline nor an obvious concept. None of the songs were over five minutes long (only the last track “Plans I Make” stopped four minutes, due to studio chatter at the end of the song) and the band had streamlined itself once again. The album was also recorded over a month period, instead of the unfathomable rush of a few days given to “Zen Arcade.”
All of these changes made the band seemed less overtly ambitious. However, while the band may have scaled back a lot of their ambitions this was probably for the best. After all, they were a punk band weren’t they? Of course they were. And punk hits best in hard, fast bites of sound. “Zen Arcade” is an amazing album but it is a “once in a career” type of album. The band had set out to prove they were the best, fastest and most talented hardcore group in the land. They succeeded: time to focus on improving their musicianship, songwriting and lyrical abilities.
Which is, of course, what “New Day Rising” achieved. In fact, “New Day Rising” is perhaps the single best Husker Du album. That is to say, it is their best single album and is probably their best album overall. However, this is a very close toss up between this album and “Zen Arcade.” It’s all a matter of preference: ambitious, messy sprawling insanity or focused, melodic and hard hitting rock and roll. Technically, the album is an improvement over “Zen Arcade” in every way but does not have the same feeling of rock and roll destiny.
The first obvious improvement is in the production of the album. Instead of the mess of fuzz, bass and drum thump, the instruments are much more clearly defined and delineated. It is easier to tell who is making what sound now, as opposed to the blur of sound from before. This is obvious from the first track, “New Day Rising” one of the stand out tracks in the Husker Du catalog.
Grant’s drums come in loud and clear: he sounds like he’s playing in the room with you. This is much better than the blurry “thud” of previous albums. Bob kicks in with a simple but fast and fuzzy guitar part that hits hard and reminds the listener that he is perhaps the best hardcore guitarist in the world. Greg’s bass fuses with the drums and guitar, providing a noticeable bottom end. The band then starts chanting “new day rising” in various different ways: harmonizing with each other, chanting, slowing it down, altering the melodies etc. The song plays for two and a half minutes and then disappears.
Some may feel that this is a weak song: it never really develops and features only a three word lyric. However, the presentation of the song makes it work: the band is playing as if their life depended on it and their vocals ring with true conviction. The song feels less like a true song and more like a chant or an evocation. It’s damn near religious and its truly exciting.
The band never lets up after this amazing start. “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” comes in with a trademark Grant Hart pop chorus: however, the band still tears it up like a true punk band. Grant is still sharpening his songwriting stick and his songs become harder and harder to forget. This isn’t to knock Bob: in fact, the next song “I Apologize” hits just as hard and has just as catchy of a chorus melody, although the verse melody resolutions are a bit awkward.
Song after song follows, each one hitting as hard as the last. Like previous Husker Du albums, it can be easy to get lost in the album: for the longest time, I found the album weak because it all starts to sound the same. However, this is a fault of all bands in this genre. The instrumentation and approach is limited and the arrangements often sound similar. With that said, the band continues to show off their willingness to grow and change by adding 12 string guitar to the opening of “Celebrated Summer.” This light touch proved a harbinger of future diversification.
Other highlights of the album include “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About.” Here, Bob rages against a person that he simply cannot understand. In fact, much of the album’s lyrics have a similarly personal approach: confusion, madness, misunderstanding and hatred fill the album. It never becomes a downer because the band is playing too fast and writings songs that are too catchy. By the time “Plans I Make” comes around, any listener will be emotionally drained and devastated by what they have heard: in a good way. Not one song seems out of place or like “filler” except for perhaps a few moments of strangeness such as “Whatcha Drinking” and “How to Skin a Cat” but even these feel more like moments of levity, designed to boost the listener’s spirit, as opposed to bad songs.
Simply put, Husker Du peaked as a band with this album. Everything that made them great is present: great pop melodies, amazing speed, passion, great lyrics and a fuzz guitar led attack that separated them from their peers. The best description I’ve read of this album was that it was “punk played as pop” and that is so true. Although the band never made a bad album, they would begin a slight slide into “more pop than punk” which turns off many hardcore fans.