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

So here they are, Bob Mould and Paul Weller, at a crossroads in their careers -- both hanging on by the skins of their reputations, floating in that nebulous space between relevance and obsolescence, constantly hearing calls to get their old bands back together because they "might as well" -- and what do they go and do? Oh, just make their most vital, most satisfying solo albums in years!

Interestingly, both accomplish the feat by offering collections of new songs that kinda play out, stylistically, like career overviews, but ones that don't look too far back. In Mould's case, his new Body of Song predominantly features the guitar-based rock structures upon which he made his name, rather than (thank God) the clubby techno direction in which most everyone thought he was heading. Some of those Modulate textures are evident here: "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope" and "I Am Vision, I Am Sound" both include Cher-/Daft Punk-like vocodered vocals, and Mould's voice is digitally manipulated, albeit to more subtle effect, on several other tracks; there are also a few synth twinkles and snaking melodies that puncture the otherwise guitar-growly shell of "Paralyzed." The latter, along with the catchy, crunchy "Best Thing," could have found a happy home on Sugar's Copper Blue, while the bitter lyrical undertones, biting arpeggios, and caustic guitar leads of opener "Circles" mostly recall Mould's second solo album, 1990's Black Sheets of Rain.

The real showstoppers, though, are the reproachful "Underneath Days" -- which rides its two chords in hypnotically muscular, shoegazery fashion -- and the impeccably crafted, Workbook-worthy semiballad "Days of Rain," which comes off a bit schmaltzy upon first listen (it's either his almost-too-tender tenor or the cello solo) but gradually reveals itself with future spins to be one of Mould's most melodically perfect pop songs ever. The only obvious nod to Hüsker Dü is "Missing You," which sounds like something from Warehouse: Songs and Stories (the Hüskers' final album) in its buzz-pop chord progressions and, especially, its vocal harmonies. Unlike on that album, however, Mould sings this song like he wants to be there.

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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The same holds true for Weller on As Is Now -- he truly hasn't sounded this thrilled to be making a record, this in the moment, in ages. "Can't nobody love you/ Like I love you, yeah" is the simple sentiment that first flies from his mouth on the exhilarating lead track, "Blink," but the lyrics aren't the main attraction here -- it's the way Weller's gruff, soulful voice wraps around each syllable with palpable passion and verve, generating as much spine-tingling excitement as the broken-bottle guitar chords and barroom-brawl rhythms that eventually coalesce into melodic mod-glam heaven in the chorus.

It's a hell of a way to kick off an album, and the innards pretty much do justice to the opening thrill. "From the Floorboards Up" slays with a choppy T. Rex riff and hip-shaking drum snaps, and finds a way to fit in a fiery little guitar solo and an echo-flanged, send-and-receive break during its 2-1/2-minute jog, while "Come On/Let's Go" is classic power-pop joy, inducing a grin even before Weller belts, "Sing ya little fuckahs/ Sing like you got no choice." The album contains no small amount of agrarian Brit-folk -- similar to the acoustic excursions Weller took on 1993's Wild Wood and 2000's Heliocentric -- but it sounds more inspired here, particularly on "The Start of Forever" (with its sweet, string-and-horn-laden psychedelia nicely complementing Weller's husky quaver) and the striking piano ballad "Pan," which pushes its dreamy melody and choral effects into Mercury Rev territory, even if Weller's rough-hewn vocals keep everything from flying off into the cosmos.

So Weller and Mould can stand on their own, that much is certain -- they don't need no stinkin' reunions to light a fire under their middle-aged asses. But that's not to say they're totally denying fans the opportunity to enjoy the past: Weller's long been known to work plenty of Jam (and Style Council) material into his live set, and Mould -- currently touring with a full band that includes Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty -- is playing Hüsker Dü and Sugar songs for the first time outside of those groups. And sure, one day either or both may decide to cash in that chip for whatever reason. But I wouldn't bet on it.

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