I used to own this on CD; a couple of times actually, or maybe the first time, my introduction, was via a dubbed cassette from a friend. Yeah, that’s more likely. Anyway, until a couple of months ago, when I downloaded it, I hadn’t heard Workbook in years. Years. I found a cheap used vinyl copy as well and slowly we’ve begun to get reacquainted. But on different terms—as I’m no longer a teenager listening in my car on the way to high school in the mornings. Relationships, no matter the kind, change and are always in flux. This is just as true for albums.

Immediate (second) impression: what a heavy fucking album. And I don’t just mean the lyrical portion, which is obvious, but the underlying tone itself: the string arrangements, the acoustic guitars, the haunting vocal overdubs, Mould’s tortured howls—everything. To be completely honest, revisiting this album has been a fairly maudlin experience. It hones in and touches that sweet spot residing somewhere between nostalgia and outright depressing. It’s heartbreak, it’s a quarter after midnight with time on your hands, it’s the last drag. But in the best way. Not that Workbook has ever been a cheerful listen, but the album bears an emotional weight to it now that I was not capable of grasping at 16 or 17—or possibly even in my early twenties for that matter.

If given 20 minutes to freely interview Mould (about anything) it is the backstory of this album, not that of Hüsker Dü or Sugar, that I would immediately delve into. And if given the same opportunity fifteen years ago? I’m pretty sure all I would have wanted to discuss was he and Grant Hart’s songwriting relationship around the making of Candy Apple Grey/Warehouse; oh, and maybe the Beaster ep. But as I said, relationships, no matter the kind, change.

And Bob, if your ever in L.A. and want to rap about Workbook, drinks are on me.

MP3: Bob Mould :: Heartbreak A Stranger
Bob Mould :: Sinners And Their Repentances

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11 Responses to “Bob Mould :: Workbook”

  1. This album may have been the pinnacle for Mould. Thanks for bringing it back to mind. I’m going to pop it in now.

  2. I really loved this album. I adored Black Sheets of Rain even more. BSOR has this slab of sludge and anger guitar that I haven’t heard Mould use before or since.

  3. Thank you for this. A totally forgotten gem from the past. Listening to “Heartbreak a Stranger” takes me back instantly – like stepping into a time machine set to 1989. A friend that time forgot for sure.

  4. Workbook/Black Sheets of Rain:
    Mould was in top form on both of these. Workbook was uniquely introspective.
    I think the backstory is there in the music. Singing about eating peanut butter sandwiches and crying, the embarrassment of living in small town America (“Brasilia crossed with Trenton”), and then there’s “Poison Years”. The mirage of “See a Little Light”. I recall him stating he was done with music after Husker Du breakup, so it was a slight shock when Workbook dropped. Workbook was a huge step towards Bob’s musical independence, with BSOR casting aside any lingering doubts about Bob’s stature.

  5. I saw Huskers in 1987 at the Nectorine Ballroom in Ann Arbor with a good friend of mine. I didn’t have a chance to see Bob Mould when he was touring to promote Workbook in 1989 but that same friend did. To quote my friend (John-John, I hope you’re reading this)”he would finish a set of songs from the new album without looking up from his acoustic guitar After the crowd gave a standing ovation, he smiled in relief, almost as if he excercised a demon”. I would image that the so-called hardcore Husker fan would have thrown the CD out the window after hearing “Sunspots”. They don’t get it. It was time to move on.

  6. Man– when the electric guitar comes in on Wishing Well. Always kills me.

    I forgot how much I used to listen to his album. Album is the correct word.

  7. One of my favorite albums. One of my favorite artists.

    Thanks for the good writing, as always.

  8. Along with Scott, this is an all-time favorite of mine and one of those records that can take me back to a VERY specific time and place. Although it’s been 20 years, the shit that girl put me through in high school came flying back with “Heartbreak A Stranger”. I thought, at 15 years old, I “got” this record…I had no clue. Thanks for the post – I’ve listened to pretty much nothing but Husker/Sugar/Mould-solo since reading this and have thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering the brilliance of Bob Mould.

  9. I turned my back on Mould after the self-titled CD in the mid-90s (the one with “I Hate Alternative Rock”I believe), but I really love this record. “See a Little Light” was always a favourite, even though it doesn’t really fit in with the overall tone of the album.

  10. Yeah, “See A Little Light” always seemed like the outlier that would have fit in on Copper Blue later.

  11. “See A Little Light” was good for this album, as it was suppose to be a “top 40” airplay song. This gets it on the airwaves, and gets people to buy the album, so Bob can go to the grocery store…

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