Husker Du - Zen Arcade
Everybody is supposed to regard Hüsker Dü as one of, if not the greatest exponents of American hardcore punk. As such, we are all supposed to bow down to them and admire their "influence" on those who came after, right? They were the ones who, along with the Violent Femmes, encapsulated the very essence of what it means to be a teenager in the eighties. Indeed, if you try to bring some sort of order to the tracks, it appears you are listening to the somewhat sorry tale of a disaffected, disillusioned, alienated youth who drifts away from his familiar surroundings in search of a more rewarding, more fulfilling life. Sorry, I just do not buy into that. Maybe it is the perspective I have, but I get the impression that the exalted status of Hüsker Dü does not transcend the Atlantic Ocean very well.
What you have with Zen Arcade is a selection of songs, some good, some bad, some mediocre which combine the immediate appeal of the well-crafted pop tune with the angst and frustration of the punks. At a time when music was also producing the likes of the Chameleons, the Sound and the Cure, there was so much more to life and music than what is essentially proto-emo. And proto-emo is what this is, when all the hype is stripped away. This is teenage angst writ large and amplified. This is not a depiction of the wider issues outside the essentially narrow concerns of kids. I am not even sure if it actually should be either.
Let's be fair, this is not a bad album. It is quite good in places, but it is overly long and in places really tires the listener. For a start, these guys can play. They are not like the punks of 77 for whom the fourth chord was a finger-bending exercise too far, no they really can play their instruments - cue the fourteen minute instrument ego-fest of "Reoccurring Dreams." The problem is, that in search of that elusive space between being musically competent and not wanting to appear to be so, there is a wasteland where you realise that music has its limitations. This is the point where Hüsker Dü position themselves. It is something of a musical thermocline, a clearly marked gradation through which you pass, rather than hang around indefinitely and attempt to build a career upon. Hüsker Dü seem to have done the latter.
Having said that, having identified the wasteland of this particular musical thermocline, Hüsker Dü set themselves an impossible task with this album. To bring musical diversity. On "Never Talking to You Again" and "Pink Turns to Blue" they succeed. Elsewhere they fail. Those two tracks may well be the album's diamonds, but you have to plough through an awful lot of grains of salt to get to them.
Perhaps it is me. Perhaps I am just too old for this. No, I don't believe that. I was contemporary to this and never really found it worthy of splashing out my always insufficient hard earned cash upon. Now, a little better off, I can, to ensure that I can reach for those diamonds when I want them. I just wish I didn't have so much salt with it. Processed food is too high in salt content to be good for you, irrespective of the quality of the underlying ingredients. This rather sums up how I feel about Zen Arcade.
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on 2011-04-25 CharlesMartel Said:
Never really understood the appeal of this band. "Zen Arcade" was an overblown epic which never really lived up to its billing.