Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hüsker Dü - Zen Arcade

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Zen Arcade, the second studio album from the American punk rock band Hüsker Dü. Hailing from St. Paul, Minnesota, the group consisted of Grant Hart (drums, vocals, percussion, and piano), Bob Mould (vocals, guitar, piano, bass, and percussion) and Greg Norton (bass and backing vocals).

Released on as a double-album, Zen Arcade told the story of a young man who runs away from home only to learn that things there are even worse out on the street.

Side one starts with the loud, rapid-fire tracks “Something I Learned Today” and “Broken Home, Broken Heart”.

“Never Talking to You Again” switches things up a bit with an acoustic guitar based number. I like it because you can actually make out the lyrics without a lot of effort.

“Chartered Trips” returns to the punk sound of the opening tracks. These first four tracks establish the protagonist’s home life.

“Dreams Reoccurring” is an under two-minute instrumental, experimental piece. It features sound samples from the album’s closing track played backwards.

“Indecision Time” barrels in next.

The side closer “Hare Krsna” has a Middle Eastern vibe to it as it alludes to the Hindu religious movement of the Hare Krishna.

Side two begins with the quick and dirty “Beyond the Threshold” and “Pride”. For me, these two short tracks could have been combined into one and I doubt I would have noticed the difference.

“I’ll Never Forget You” is up next. It is full of rage and aggression, as the punk genre is wont to be.

“The Biggest Lie” has a bold opening to it that lasts thirty seconds, a quarter of the track.

“What’s Going On” spins out of control and into confusion.

“Masochism World” actually appeared prior to the album, as a B-side to the band’s cover of the Byrd‘s “Eight Miles High” earlier in 1984. This is the first track from side two that I could see myself actually listening to more than once.

“Standing by the Sea” is another change-up, this time giving us a straightforward rock song. I like the ocean sound effects through out; they really help the song to take me somewhere beyond a loud, dark and crowded backroom club.

Side three opens with “Somewhere”, another clean and clear-cut track. I think I have hit the oasis in this record’s story line by this point.

“One Step at a Time” is a short but sweet piano interlude.

“Pink Turns to Blue” tells of a young woman who is hooked on drugs and dies of an overdose. From the narrator’s standpoint, he watches in a panic and confusion as her life slips away.

“Newest Industry”, a commentary on war-torn nations, has a pop-rock sound to it.

“Monday Will Never Be the Same” is another under a minute piano interlude.

“Whatever” works as a nice blend of the various music styles up to this point. The lyrics give a sarcastic spin on a bored youth culture. Whatever indeed.

“The Tooth Fairy and the Princess” has a hypnotic effect, repeating the same chords and chorus over and over again for close to three minutes.

Side four kicks off with “Turn on the News”, which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame placed it on its list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. The lyrics are a commentary on the mass media’s inclination for negativity and sensationalism. This song rocks and easily could stand alone from the rest of the album’s narrative.

The album concludes with the nearly fourteen-minute long instrumental “Reoccurring Dreams”. This one runs too long for me; four to six minutes would have sufficed. Instead, it turns into something that you would hear during a live concert when part of the band wanted to slip off-stage to grab a quick drink or smoke to recharge before the final encores.

This was my first listen to Zen Arcade and it was an interesting trip across seventy minutes of music. Even as someone who is not a big punk fan or someone who has ever listened to Hüsker Dü previously, I think I got a bit out of it. I have to admit that I struggled with the earlier parts put then settled in nicely about a third of the way through. I suspect that this is one of those albums that grow on you over time.

No comments: