Bob Mould is a dinosaur—but at least he knows it. “I’ve heard this thing about ‘guitars are dead’ at least five times,” says the man who’s been a guitar rock trailblazer for four decades and counting. “For better or worse, this is what I do…trying to make great rock albums for people because there’s not that many anymore.” Defiantly old-fashioned and doggedly thrilling, Mould’s new Sunshine Rock doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it does prove that there’s enduring appeal to loud, fast, hook-laden rock and roll, performed with swagger and joyful abandon.
The album represents something of an emotional sea change for Mould, whose latter-day career has resulted in a number of very good but fairly dour records, including a couple about the deaths of his mom and dad. Some of that twilit introspection slips through here, particularly in the haunted reflections of “The Final Years.” He can still be pretty caustic, too; consider the clenched riffs and spring-loaded resentment in “What Do You Want Me to Do,” a song about being at your wits’ end with the person you cherish the most.
Yet for the most part, these songs choose to look on the bright side; it’s no accident that four of them reference sun in their titles, including a carefree childhood remembrance of a place called “Camp Sunshine,” where everyone just laughs and sings and plays all day. It’s tempting to think Camp Sunshine exists only in Mould’s imagining, yet it’s also something of a Rosetta Stone for an album that’s consistently joyful in its countenance and hopeful in its intentions. The true Camp Sunshine, it would seem, is the inner Camp Sunshine.
Mould pairs his bright disposition with some of the most buoyant songs he’s ever written. These overdriven power pop songs faintly recall Copper Blue, the tuneful opus Mould made in the early ’90s with his band Sugar—but while that album was deliberately thin in its production, Sunshine Rock is bedazzled with literal bells and whistles, including an eighteen-piece string section to lend Mould’s muscular rock a sense of transcendence. The title track practically glistens; “I Fought,” meanwhile, snarls and howls with pure garage rock mayhem. There’s not a song here that wants for cathartic energy or an earworm hook—proof enough that there remains a bright future for that old-time rock and roll.