The 40-Year-Old Solo Artists

Bob Mould and Paul Weller each have new records that prove they're as vital as ever -- without their old bands

It's tough to say which is worse: the sadness that comes from seeing your aging musical heroes sputter and fade away as they cling determinedly to the ideals of creative exploration and artistic relevancy on their own terms; or the sadness (and, oftentimes, disgust) of watching them surrender to nostalgia, trading in on whatever fame they've accrued over the years for the chance to hover at the edges of public consciousness, whether that means going through the greatest-hits motions at state fairs and casinos or making pathetic spectacles of themselves on reality TV shows.

Or calling up the old friends -- or foes -- and getting the band back together for one more go-round.

Particularly for punk, post-punk, and indie rock icons of the '70s and '80s approaching or having crossed into middle age with floundering solo careers, that last option has proven the most enticing over the past couple of years -- as you've undoubtedly noticed, the altrock reunion circuit is more saturated than Keith Richards' liver. And why not? It's easy to cloak a desperate craving for the lost limelight in such noble-sounding guises as "completing unfinished business," "mending broken relationships," or "showing the kids how this kinda music is really done." Heading out with the ol' band for a few months can also be a swell way of getting some free publicity for that solo album that just so happens to be coming out any day now (although I haven't yet seen anyone tripping over himself in a rush to grab Pajo, the first post-Slint-reunion offering from guitarist David Pajo).

The style council declares that this man, 
Paul Weller, is still totally awesome.
The style council declares that this man, Paul Weller, is still totally awesome.

Details

Bob Mould performs on Friday, Oct. 14, at the Fillmore; call 346-6000 or visit www.t hefillmore.com for more info.

Paul Weller plays Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Warfield; call 567-2060 or go to www.bgp.co m for more info.

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And, of course, there's reason numero uno: money. With the Pixies proving just how profitable this reunion business can be, even archnemeses Lou Barlow and J. Mascis were able to bury the hatchet after 15 years and get Dinosaur Jr. out on the road to riches. Paul Westerberg is probably on his knees outside Tommy Stinson's window right now, tearfully begging him to go in on a Replacements reunion with the offer of a 30-70 split (which would still probably make Westy a very wealthy man). But who can blame these folks? Many of 'em have slid from major labels to indie labels to "PayPal me six bucks and I'll mail the damn thing to you myself this afternoon." At least Frank Black freely admitted the financial motivation behind the Pixies redux in a 2004 interview with the Boston Globe: "We've had this chip in our back pocket for a long time, and it keeps going up in value. We're cashing it in this year."

Two other altrock legends holding equally valuable chips, however, have so far resisted the urge to cash in. Bob Mould, who'll be 45 in October, stands to make a ridiculous amount of money if he ever decides to reanimate Hüsker Dü, the visionary and wildly influential Minneapolis punk-pop trio he co-founded in 1979 and quit in 1988 amid infamous intraband turmoil. Forty-seven-year-old Paul Weller, meanwhile, would rake in his own not-so-tiny bundle if he chose to re-form the Jam, the beloved, also wildly influential British mod-punk outfit he forged in 1975 and disbanded in 1982, at the height of the group's popularity and much to the consternation of his perplexed bandmates.

Clearly, the stature of both bands has grown exponentially since their demise; aside from the Smiths, Hüsker Dü and the Jam are probably the two groups that altrock fans most want to reunite. So why hasn't it happened? Certainly, all the acrimony involved in both situations has hampered any such possibility. The nearest the Hüskers have come was last October, when Mould and former cohort Grant Hart -- with whom Mould's been feuding for the past 17 years -- teamed up in polite fashion to play two of their old songs during a benefit concert for cancer-stricken (and now-departed) Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller. But any notion of a full-fledged reunion (which would also include bassist and current restaurateur Greg Norton) was quashed afterward, what with Mould downplaying the gig as a one-shot deal done for a special cause and Hart quickly resuming his attacks on Mould in the press. As for the guys in the Jam, they haven't even come that close -- from all accounts, Weller has had little to no contact with bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler over the years, especially after the pair viciously attacked Weller in their 1993 Jam tell-all book, Our Story. In late 2003, Weller was compelled to address persistent rumors that the Jam was planning to reunite in 2004 -- he simply called the reports "bollocks."

Which brings us back to the "sputter and fade away" part. You can certainly make the case that Mould hasn't put out a decent album since Sugar's 1994 swan song, File Under: Easy Listening; whispers of "He's lost it" have been dogging him since 1996's tepid Bob Mould, and his last solo album, 2002's all-electronica affair, Modulate, was about as well-received as an IRS audit. And Weller, quite frankly, hasn't done much better: 1995's Stanley Road was an absolute winner, but since then he's fallen into a bit of a creative rut on a handful of discs, culminating with last year's bore of a covers album, Studio 150.

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