Husker Du to me represents the bridge between 80s american hardcore punk and 90s alternative. The band began their life as a somewhat generic 80s hardcore band, but evolved into something unique, paving not only their own way but the way for Nirvana, the Pixies, Superchunk, and the Foo Fighters.
Both the drummer Grant Hart and the guitarist Bob Mould were the primary song writers. In the earlier albums Mould would write most of the songs, while Hart would contribute just a few. By the end of their careers the song writing was being split 50/50 leading to the band breaking up due to artistic differences.
The band logo was three separate parallel lines intersecting with one perpendicular line, representing three distinct voices coming together to create. In the end the band members couldn’t share control leading to their downfall.
To scientifically decide who was the better song writer we are going to compare their respective output album by album.
Everything Falls Apart
The first album is the only studio release that really captures the band when they were purely a hardcore band (there are a few rare 7 inch singles and a live album that are from the band’s hardcore days). Bob Mould writes the majority of the songs, with the bassist Greg Norton writing more songs than Hart.
Overall this probably the least essential album, it only offers a glimmer of what the band was to become. It’s borderline unfair to even include this in our comparison between Hart and Mould as songwriters, since Hart has such a small part in the writing on this one.
Winner: Mould, due to sheer quantity
This is the first time that we see Husker Du beginning to sound like less of a 80s hardcore band and more like an alternative 90s band. The record still has the snarl and screaming vocals of “Everything Falls Apart”, but musically the songs are more melodic and less rhythmic, the songs begin to sound different and distinguishable from each other. Grant Hart has more of a song writing presence on this one, where as on the last album he only wrote one song.
None of the songs on this one really stand out to me as great compared to their work yet to come. “Real World” is a bit of rager (Mould), “It’s Not Funny Anymore” is well written (Hart), “First of the Last Calls” (Mould) has some cool riffage. But all in all, the best was yet to come.
Zen Arcade is widely regarded as the best husker album, it’s certainly the most popular. If you’ve never listened to this band before I’d recommend you start with this. It’s a double album with 23 songs. The songs link together a narrative of a young man coming from a broken home, running away only to be as lonely and lost in america as he was in his home.
Some of Husker’s best songs are on this, “Something I Learned Today” (Mould) is a classic opening song with cool introspective lyrics. “Broken Home, Broken Heart” (Mould) is a fast paced rock out about the break down of the family from a child’s perspective, “Never Talking to You Again” (Hart) is an acoustic song written in traditional structure, “Pink Turns to Blue” (Hart) is melodically beautiful song about drug addiction, “Turn On The News” (Hart) is a critique of news pessimism and fear mongering.
All in all, Grant Hart’s writing was more in a reflective emotional mode of viewing, while Mould had more anger and virility in his approach. This is tough one to call, but I think I’d have to say that Bob Mould wrote better songs on Zen Arcade
New Day Rising
This album is the critic’s favourite. It’s usually featured on Spin, Rolling Stone, and other’s top albums list, more so then the other Husker albums. For me, it’s only an average album in this fine band’s discography.
It opens with “New Day Rising” (Mould) which isn’t really a song more of a giant build up. This is followed by “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” (Hart) the most famous song on the album. “Celebrated Summer” (Mould) is another fan favourite. “Books About UFOs” (Hart) is a song that stands out with it’s bouncy catchy pop feel.
Winner: Hart, because Mould’s songs weren’t that memorable.
Flip Your Wig
Flip Your Wig is the Husker album that usually gets forgotten and is often thought of as not as good as Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, or Candy Apple Grey. Personally, I think it’s better than New Day Rising, and on par with Candy Apple and Zen Arcade. The songs are quite memorable, although some of the songs are obviously filler (“The Baby Song” is a 49 second joke).
I think the first 6 songs on this are all awesome. The title track, “Flip Your Wig” (Mould) is a classic Husker tune, “Every Everything” (Hart), my favourite song on this, is a no-nonsense emotional roller coaster who’s meaning is obscured in it’s esotericism. “Makes No Sense At All” (Mould) is one of the more hummable numbers, while “Green Eyes” (Hart) is a love song drenched in the band’s distinct sound. “Divide and Conquer” has a cool riff and great angry lyrical delivery.
Candy Apple Grey
This album was the band’s major label debut. Many of the songs are at a slower pace then the band’s early albums. Many of the songs seem to be about a painful breakup that I suspect Hart must have been going through, Hart emotional delivery really shines through. I think I would say this is my personal favourite, by a hair.
“Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” (Hart) is a beautiful breakup song in the tradition of the earlier albums, “Sorry Somehow” (Hart) is about irrational guilt, “Too Far Down” (Mould) is a ballad like acoustic song with sad emotional lyrics from Mould that fit perfectly with Hart’s sad songs. “Eiffel Tower High” (Mould) is a faster song with a complicated narrative about how much media blurs our expectations about life and distracts us from true authentic life experiences. “No Promise Have I Made” (Hart) is a full on piano ballad.
Warehouse: Songs and Stories
Warehouse was the last Husker album. It’s another double album, but this time it feels less cohesive and more of just a dumping of creativity, like the band was trying to get all their ideas out before quitting. Both Hart and Mould write a lot of songs on this, each roughly half the album.
“Ice Cold Ice” (Mould) is the most popular song from this one, “You’re a Soldier” (Hart) is a face paced classic husker song, “Could You Be The One” (Mould) is another highlight.
Final Score: Hart: 4 // Mould: 5
So there you have it, Bob Mould is the better song writer. Close game though.