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New Musical Express, 01 Sep 1984

Zen Arcade review.

Transcriber's note: Biba Kopf was the pseudonym of NME writer Chris Bohn. Bohn had been a staff writer, under his real name, until 1983. He was also largely responsible for the 15 Sep issue, which was devoted to "hardcore" and included an interview with HD. [Transcribed by Zvia Admon.]


Hüsker Dü
Zen Arcade (SST - double US import)

by Biba Kopf

People tell me these are bad times to be young in. To wit I reply I've never known them to be better. Taking into account the young's boundless enthusiasm for mischief the opportunities afforded are endless.

Social contracts burnt, no job opportunities, all that time to kill - the inner and outer landscapes Hüsker Dü words traverse may be familiar, but the ferocity of their response bespeaks something else altogether: a savaging of the ties that bind. Cut loose anything might happen. Push them too hard and it probably will.

From Minneapolis, Hüsker Dü relocate themselves, however, in the vicinity of the small town ready to blow in Jonathan Kaplan's teen explosion [sic] picture Over The Edge, which inevitably ended in pitched battle between a-dolts (sic) and young. If 'Zen Arcade' doesn't end in rioting, it doesn't mean there isn't a riotous time to be had here.

Having passed through ultracore, broken all landspeed records and burst the eight miles high thrashold, Hüsker Dü either had to go nova or reconsider their strategy. Typically, they've somehow managed both, even made going nova their strategy and redeployed their tremendous speed without sacrificing anything in strike power. The change is slight but telling. Where they were once rabid they are now rapid: they've replaced dirty germ warfare with a cleaner cut and thrust.

All the healthier for it, Hüsker Dü presently range freer and faster. 'Zen Arcade' crosses vast tracts of wasteland, calls in on countless dulltowns. To its immense credit it forsakes the easy route of retreading Grandmaster Flash's glitzy inner city glam grime and instead gets to grips with a far more pervasive greyness.

That these quickfire missives scattershot across four sides don't become unrelentingly bleak, then, is down to Hüsker Dü's distillation of grey, wasted lives into concentrated instants of minimal duration but greater quality. They hone in on emotional flashpoints - be it personal disappointments or a newsflash - and edit them into songs of cartoon bubble efficiency and invigorating directness.

Because they write and record fast - 23 songs mostly done in one take over 85 hours! - they're necessarily raw and sometimes incomplete, but they have the immedacy of concise diary entries. In their case the diaries belong to nobodies, the nobodies of the silent majorities refusing to stay silent any longer. They enter into them fragments about broken down affairs, broken down homes, closed down mill towns and reported fears of the ultimate shutdown. But if all these "downs" have driven them into a corner, it has so much buckled their spirit as strenghtened their resolve to keep on fighting.

In fact, this extraordinary power trio seem to operate best with their backs to the wall. Bob Mould's guitar sputters and splinters at earpiercing feedback into a thousand pieces, giving the impression of Hüsker Dü being a far larger and more forbidding unit than it is.

To put it country simple: Hüsker Dü, others don't.

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