While admittedly some of this album doesn’t do it for me, it is incredibly easy to hear the influence this album and their other mid-80s work had on so much of the music I love from the early 90s.
When Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton started making music in Minneapolis in the early 80s, they surely didn’t realize just how significant the trails they were blazing would be. Taking their name from the Danish phrase meaning “do you remember”, they led the way in the “post-punk” movement which found them retaining much of the traditional thrash of hardcore punk but incorporating more melody and pop-esque song structure.
Rolling Stone chose their third album, 1985’s New Day Rising, but could just as easily have selected either of the first two. Spin Magazine also voted this one of the best 300 albums of the thirty years between 1985 and 2015. Although it never reached the Top 100 on the U.S. Billboard charts, this album did peak at #10 on UK Indie Charts, which is their highest commercial achievement.
The first several tracks here are some of the heavier in their catalog, with Bob and Grant providing vocal delivery that is so aloof and raw that it is at times hard to listen to and definitely will take some listeners a bit to get used to. Frequently Bob is literally yelling as if he is in pain or someone owes him money, which reminds me of Brian Ritchie’s best moments as backup singer for Violent Femmes, another (decidedly different) 80s rock torchbearer. Throughout this record, very little effort is made by the fellas to sound pretty or even be on key, which is a Husker Du trademark.
These early songs are a driving, non-stop sonic assault, complete with little to nothing in the way or verses- especially on the title track/opener and “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”. Both songs are tremendous, but there is a complete absence of what anyone could call singing or storytelling here. Over a delightfully fuzzed-out guitar riff that is beyond words and those ever-present drums, Bob simply yells “new day rising” over and over (along with some other random screaming), and it actually works pretty damned well.
Halfway through, the album mellows out considerably and here is where we see Husker Du’s true legacy- they took thrash punk and gave it just enough songwriting and pop charm, especially on “Celebrated Summer” and “Perfect Example”. The highlight of the album is probably the perfect mix of speedy punk and hooky pop on the sing-along glory of “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About”.
All in all this is a quick and to the point record, with no wasted time until the very last minute. The album closer, “Plans I Make”, is still fast and frantic, but it is the only song to eclipse the four-minute mark. This beauty ends with Bob yelling “Plans… make… plans… make” repeatedly as the guitar feedback dies out and Grant and Bob are heard commenting on that being the last song of the album. If this doesn’t remind you of Nirvana’s gruffer and noisier compositions (see “Get Away” or “Tourette’s”), listen to some of this record and then go revisit those Kurt Cobain classics.
Back to the HD legacy: they oh so clearly influenced Nirvana, Pixies, Meat Puppets, even the pop/punk sounds of Superchunk and The Offspring. In fact, as Nirvana was blowing up the music scene in the early 90s, Kris Novoselic said that he didn’t understand why all the fuss, because Husker Du had already done it before them. Much like some of Tom Waits’ quirkier stuff, this music is simple for most people to immediately dismiss (see “How To Skin A Cat” or “59 Times the Pain”), but there is a lot of goodness here if you can get past the in-your-face delivery.
Worthy Tracks: “New Day Rising”, “Celebrated Summer”, “Perfect Example”, “Books About UFOs”, “Plans I Make”
Final Verdict: Yes, Husker Du deserves a place on this list, and this is a fine album that displays the direction punk was going in the late 80s (see also the direction R.E.M. went).
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2eOu9QDLP2MoO04ZtII2Vm?si=axHrmbrfQFaSW8rRGwMoLA