It's a pretty quick turnaround for another album by Bob Mould -- after all, District Line was released just last year. Prior to that, it's three years back to Body of Song, then three years back to Modulate, then four years back to The Last Dog and Pony Show. (Of course, if you count his album under the name Loudbomb or his collaboration with Rich Morel for Blowoff, that throws this math off. So we won't count either.)
This album shares much in common with District Line, which is also a departure from the last 15 years -- each album since the breakup of Sugar in 1995 has been a bit different from the last. As you may remember, District Line confounded me for quite awhile, but I basically couldn't put it away. And it still sits in my CD Changer -- er, visor. As for Life and Times, I can sum up the pro and con views fairly quickly:
Pro - This is a very solid album.
Con - This is a very solid album.
It's that type of cogent analysis that keeps you people coming back here.
There's a fine line between endorsement and damning with faint praise. The real issue here lies in Mould's body of work. From Hüsker Dü to solo to Sugar to solo again, I count 17 studio albums and an EP in 27 years; of those, I only count two I don't go back and listen to. And those two albums STILL have three absolutely great songs each, as well as being better than most of the music that came out that year. Not bad for your two "worst outings"; in reality, there's not a bad apple in the bunch. That's going to make any future album evaluation pretty damn tough -- and that's why some fans would equate a "very solid album" with "failure."
So how does L & T stack up? All the tracks are solid -- it's consistently good front to back, and grows on you over time. The first four tracks are solid, and "Wasted World" and "Spiraling Down" anchor the back half of the album. The only thing the album is missing is a truly great track like on his previous 17 -- but maybe I'm just not hearing it yet. In any case, I'd highly recommend it as a starting point to listening to his work, or for someone who is a longtime fan. It's really... well, it's very solid.
CD Placement Rating: Where the rubber meets the road -- this goes into the Car CD Changer. I'm sticking with that term for my rating; "CD Visor" doesn't have the same ring.
Merch Rating: I always buy Mould's CD's when they come out, so that isn't fair; I'd love to see him release some b-sides on a single or two which I'd buy. (This hasn't happened since 1996, so I'm not holding my breath here.) I'll buy whatever is at the show in October in Boston; at the last show I bought a numbered and signed print by a then-unknown Shepherd Fairey. That worked out pretty well.