Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Dü Hüskers - The Hang-Ups/Vertigo

It's hard to underestimate how much impact Hüsker Dü made. They are often credited with single handily inventing indie rock, along with being one of the most interesting and clever bands in hardcore punk. Though they were short lived, lasting less than 9 years, they managed to wield more influence on music than any other underground band of their time.

One of the jewels in Hüsker Dü's crown was their Eight Miles High single. A cover of the Byrds' sprawling, psychedelic classic, the single seemed to condense everything that was great about Hüsker Dü into one song. It is loud, it is fast and it is filled with anger and emotion. Bob Mould's performance on this single is possibly the finest of his career. He shouts the lyrics until they are indecipherable yet still manages to maintain the melody and catchiness of the song above a wall of guitar noise. Grant Hart's frantic drum rolls and Greg Norton's uncomplicated yet intriguing bass part provide the perfect grounding for Mould's frenzied and distorted attack. The track is a high point in an illustrious career. Why then would you want to take on the task of trying to replicate it? Well, it turns out that Du Huskers, the split single by The Hang-Ups and Vertigo, inevitably falls short but it makes a half decent go of it nonetheless.

Whilst the original sleeve featured a photograph of graceful flamingos taking flight, this one has seagulls and a huge jet engine waiting to consume them mid-air. A joke like that would lead you to assume that the grooves of this single contain a version of Eight Miles that is liable to tear the paint off the walls. It would seem however that The Hang-Ups weren't told about this, or the fact that they were meant to be covering Hüsker Dü. What you get instead is a tame, yet enjoyable cover of the Byrds' version of the song. Its mid tempo, at times it's fairly jazzy and there are some pretty good harmonies. It's executed with a little bit of flair and individualism but nothing too fancy. In fact, there isn't much wrong with their version at all. Except that it fails to match the powerful aural explosion of Hüsker Dü, with a few brief exceptions such as right at the beginning of the track which served only to whet my appetite for more noise. Maybe that’s the joke. Maybe they're being clever and reversing what Hüsker Dü did with their version. The Hüsker's version was a violent tribute to a band they admired and maybe The Hang-ups’ version is the same thing but done in their own style. To be honest I don't really care about the reasoning behind it. They recorded a decent version of a great song; it just wasn't what I was expecting.

The B Side however is almost exactly what I was expecting. Vertigo's version of “Masochism World”, taken from Hüsker Dü's revered album “Zen Arcade”, is the angry attack that I was expecting. Recorded live in a bar in Minneapolis, as was the original b-side, it's a fast and vicious assault on an already angry song. The sound of the recording is fairly lo-fi. A bit muffled and lacking in definition it sounds like an early single from a small punk label in the 1980’s, which is fine by me really. It’s fast, furious and at times sloppy which just lends to its charm. You get the feeling that the guys playing know the song inside out and are giving their all to it.

The single sticks fairly true to the original ideas behind the Hüsker Dü release. Like their version, side A is studio recorded whilst side B is a live version of a yet to be released song (a common practice of Hüsker Dü). A little online snooping revealed that the label behind it, Synapse Records, had released an album of Minneapolis bands covering Zen Arcade in its entirety, to which this single acted in its original roll as precursor. Though the differences in style between the Hüsker Dü versions and these covers was proof that you can’t judge a record by its sleeve, this still a fairly strong single from two bands I have never heard of before or since.

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