I say this with utter, unwavering conviction: Hüsker Dü is the most criminally underappreciated alt-rock band of the pre-Nirvana era. While contemporaries like R.E.M. and Sonic Youth have joined the rock canon, Hüsker Dü (which consisted of vocalist/guitarist Bob Mould, vocalist/drummer Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton) remains relatively unknown, and is often forgotten in the modern narrative of the development of the American underground scene in the 1980s. This is especially troubling since Hüsker Dü was the group responsible for pioneering the sonic hallmarks traditionally associated with alternative rock: the potent mix of distortion and pop melodies, the angst-filled lyrics, and even the rhythm of the guitars. Music journalist Michael Azerrad gave the group its due in his 2001 history Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, and the band does make sporadic appearances on various “Best albums of the 1980s” critics lists, but it’s nowhere near what it actually deserves. Bluntly, Hüsker Dü‘s best albums deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as alt-rock classics like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, and the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa.
Of all its records, Hüsker Dü‘s New Day Rising is its best and most consistent, bursting with hooks and driven by a sheer urgency that overwhelms the listener. Recorded in July 1984, New Day Rising was the first of two albums the Minneapolis band released on Southern California indie label SST in 1985. The group’s preceding release, the justly acclaimed double album opus Zen Arcade (1984), blew apart the conventions of hardcore punk into a thousand searing pieces in methods that ranged from one-and-a-half-minute acoustic numbers to fourteen-minute punk-psych epics. Zen Arcade‘s legend looms large in the Hüsker Dü discography; what is generally overlooked is that the group’s follow-up album naturally had to figure out what to do next. SST’s edict that the group’s next release be restricted to a single disc actually benefited the trio. What the Hüskers did on this album was summarize the lessons learned on Zen Arcade into a concise 40-minute package, in the process closing the door once and for all on its punk incarnation and setting the template for the sound of alternative rock well into the next decade.