Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey review

Originally Released 22nd May 1986. Review originally posted 1st April 2007.

Sometimes, in fact most times, transitioning from the womb of independent obscurity to a major label act is the defining step on a bands’ path to self destruction. After all, being independent isn’t just about sleeping in vans and permanently having three cigarettes to your name, but also working with expectation that you can control as it’s concentrated amongst a few thousand people. This music parable was most famously illustrated by Nirvana’s ostensibly upwardly mobile defection from Sub Pop to Geffen; despite the fact that half of the epochal Nevermind was written in “Alternative” conditions (i.e. a freezing Tacoma barn) whilst under contract to the Seattle warhorse, the corporate distribution muscle the band had thought their alma mater lacked gave them an irreversible dose of unplanned stardom that made Kurt Cobain regret what he’d wished for.

With a considerably greater underground heritage and a set of dedicated but perhaps more narrow minded disciples, Husker Du’s decision to sign for behemoth Warners was looked at with all the trust of a rattlesnake in a lucky dip, but songwriting axis Bob Mould and Grant Hart were by now honing their protean post-hardcore by using enough melody to accommodate more than just a sect.

Operating under different pressures or not, Candy Apple Grey represented a giant leap forward for what became known unimaginatively as alternative rock, coming as close to tapering the jagged edge of psychedelic pop as the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Never Understand did across the pond. In amongst the trenchant howls Mould and Hart had created a batch of songs so far removed from the primitive three-chord straightjacket of their beginnings that the transformation stunned many old school fans as much as it delighted critics who had for long been expecting much more than nihilistic postcards. True, they still rocked, but now they’d added a precision and grace to their work which at times felt truly groundbreaking.

Not that they weren’t still pissed off; ‘Don’t Wanna Know If You Are Lonely’ should be fed to cheating lovers with their breakfast cereal; ‘Sorry Somehow’ spits deep into the cavernous hole your heart was ripped from. Perhaps mirroring the band’s inner workings at this point (They were to split acrimoniously the following year – refer to opening paragraph) the pathos and aggression are served in equal doses, with the addition of naked acoustics on “Too Far Down” either further evidence of the heretical sellout or portraying a new tenderness and vulnerability, depending on your point of view.

The only minor complaint is the nostalgic adherence to amateurish 4-track mixing which leaves Grant Hart’s drums sounding like they are being played by a twelve year old hitting a wet cardboard box. This won’t stop you loving this record though and if you don’t believe me, check out ‘Dead Set On Destruction’ and/or ‘Eiffel Tower High’ and then call liar.


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