in CAT

Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)

It’s unfortunate that once again I feel compelled to write an impromptu Classic Album Thursday due to the passing of an alt-rock legend. In recent years, it’s felt much more like Bob Mould has been the one preserving the legacy of Hüsker Dü, due to an accomplished solo career and the fact he’s probably more equated with the band’s greatness than drummer/singer/songwriter Grant Hart, who passed away earlier today. But make no mistake, Hart was just as much a reason for the Hüsker’s being one of the most important and influential rock bands of the ’80s.

I don’t think it’d be much of a stretch to call Hart and Mould the Lennon-McCartney of the ’80s underground punk scene. They were certainly the kind of duo where you could tell each was pushing each other in new, different directions that no other bands had dared to venture. Hüsker Dü’s early sound clearly sprung from the hardcore bands that made their names in L.A. and D.C., but by infusing actual hummable melodies on top of their punk gusto, they created something distinctly midwestern, and also something that hadn’t ever really been heard before.

And I’d say Grant Hart was the main motivating factor in that. He clearly wrote the more pop-oriented songs in the band, which then, in turn, pushed Mould to up his songcraft as the band saw its Twin City frenemies The Replacements moving in a similarly more accessible direction. I know this may sound like rock history lecturing for those that have pored over the ’80s underground timeline the way I have. But I think it is still important to point out that even though Nirvana is treated almost like a ubiquitous pillar of modern rock (like our generation’s Elvis or Beatles) at this point, they would’ve never happened if it wasn’t for Hüsker Dü grabbing hardcore punk by the horns and turning it into something that could someday be the music of a generation.

And it’s all there on Zen Arcade. I’ll admit my favorite Hüsker Dü album has always been Flip Your Wig, possibly because it was the best showcase for the band’s more pop-oriented sound, which Grant Hart flourished in. Meanwhile Zen Arcade is an epic beautiful mess. There are still plenty of songs here that are made for no other reason than to be blasted your earholes, while that’s paired with something like Hart’s acoustic “Never Talking To You Again”, which points the way toward a more introspective future for the burgeoning college rock scene.

But the thing that I always marveled about on Zen Arcade is the way its first half has this kind of loud messy madness to it, but on the third side of this double LP, everything clicks. All of the rage and angst at the heart of this album focuses into something trascendent, with Hart’s “Pink Turns To Blue” being one of the clear stand-outs of this run of songs that pointed the way toward a new future for punk. And I don’t think we ever would’ve gotten to that future without Grant Hart and Bob Mould pushing each other there and back again.

Favorite Tracks: “Never Talking To You Again”, “Chartered Trips”, “Pink Turns To Blue”