Bob Mould - The Last Dog and Pony Show
THERE'S A TOUCHING EPILOGUE AT the end of Shakespeare's The Tempest, in which Prospero, the master magician, is giving up his trade. All he wants is a bit of appreciation from his audience and then he's off.
That's basically the deal with Bob Mould's new record. He's asking for your indulgence, to recognise that an ageing punk-heart may not want to wail and crash forever. So, by way of an adieu, he provides a summary of his best tricks: the brave tunes, the upfront lyrics, the stormy guitar.
Fans of Hüsker Dü, of Sugar and of the soul-burning solo music will be touched. Newcomers to Mould's art will probably feel that it sounds fresh and sassy, a bit like, say, the Foo Fighters. Which of course is evidence of Bob's influential style. The album title alludes to the fact that he's moving beyond the amped-up rock circuit. Certainly, you can imagine Mould cutting out a career with a bunch of pithy, acoustic songs in the future, quietly heroic like Vic Chesnutt or Eliott Smith.
Whatever, a song like 'Skin Trade' will survive in any genre, as it heads towards the awful pay-off, "Every stitch of you has been revealed/And there's nothing left to conceal". Certainly, the confessionals are less bruising this time.
With 'Sweet Serene', he's reliant on clamour and speed to justify a farewell speech. Later, there's something very middle-aged about 'First Drag Of The Day', an anthem to nicotine denial that sets Bob up as the anti-Oasis.
But you feel that he won't mind this, that fashion isn't part of the gig. Rather, he's strengthened his role as a straight-up writer, unwilling to fake it as a jumpy kid when he feels entirely different. Hilariously, he tries to summarise his own character in 'Classified' and plumps for "stable, mature, but a little unsure". He's too modest as ever, but at least he's not twisted. Bob sounds practically happy. And he hasn't surrendered the magic just yet.