Husker Du Warehouse Songs and Stories

The Soundtrack to Hüsker Dü’s Implosion: ‘Warehouse: Songs and Stories’ Turns 35

It’s been 35 years since college rock harbingers Hüsker Dü culminated in a storm of malaise. Warehouse: Songs and Stories was their parting gift.

Warehouse: Songs and Stories
Hüsker Dü
Warner Records
19 January 1987

Goodbyes are complicated; that’s why many bands avoid them altogether. Instead, they fizzle out with a shrug (as Pavement did), diplomatically part ways, or opt for the dreaded “indefinite hiatus” Instagram post before slinking out the back door and leaving fans perpetually dangling. Befitting their monumental impact on alternative music—and the sheer ferocity of their noise-pop pioneering sound—Hüsker Dü went another route and blew up in flames. (“The story of how Hüsker Dü broke up is fucking wild,” Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite once told Under the Radar.) It was the only way the group could have ended. 

Hüsker Dü’s tumultuous demise was defined mainly by the animosity between the newly sober and increasingly business-minded Bob Mould and the bare-footed, laissez-faire Grant Hart. After all, they were the band’s songwriting pair and, more accurately, internal rivals. The tension between the two reached its nadir on the group’s last studio collection, double LP Warehouse: Songs And Stories, which turns 35 this month. It marked the end of the trio’s prolific, if ultimately short-lived, 1983 – 1987 output, and it hosted Hart and Mould’s epic final showdown. The album was their sonic battlefield, its length born out of stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise as they hurled three-minute blasts of buzzing fury back and forth in quick succession.

Their friction wasn’t the only pressure surrounding Warehouse‘s recording and release. David Savoy, Hüsker Dü’s long-term manager, took his own life on the eve of their national tour (an event that Mould cited as “the beginning of the end”). Hart’s worsening drug use was making life difficult as well, so Mould abruptly canceled said tour part-way through and without conferring with his colleagues. Therefore, their farewell was far from a jubilant valediction. Still, their swansong manages to deliver subtler goodbyes—back pats to fans, parting aperçus, and future plans—within its fuzzy folds.

Warehouse was overlooked upon release for several reasons, and even now, few Hüsker Heads would call it their favorite record from the band’s catalog. For one thing, the sprawling length of 20 tracks and the title’s colon interruption led to assumptions that this was a B-sides compilation. Additionally, the group’s sound steadily slipped away from the raucous punk of 1984’s Zen Arcade and towards poppier songs. Even Green Day got on board with them (especially Hüsker Dü’s major-label debut, Candy Apple Grey, from 1986). Warehouse embraced these evergreen instincts to the Nth degree, prompting some early fans to look elsewhere.

The sequence’s lead single (and Mould’s agreeable rom-song in C major), “Could You Be the One?”, is emblematic of this mainstream espousal. Hell, it was performed on The Joan Rivers Show. Just imagine Hüsker Dü! on Joan Rivers! Its bulky power chords, propulsive drums, and playful guitar solo mirroring the vocal melody went into Billie Joe Armstrong’s songwriting playbook. (In fact, my girlfriend walked into the room while the song was playing and asked, “Does Green Day like Hüsker Dü?”)

Tracks of this ilk liberally populate the record, blueprinting not only the concurrent wave of pop-infused punk and emo but also Mould’s solo work. “Standing in the Rain” is particularly special. Opening with portentous thunder rumbles, its voltage-charged open chords soon slice across the skyline. It holds back its chorus, cycling a few rounds of verse/pre-chorus until enough tension is built for it to eventually sink into a melancholic yet cathartic bellow of “You left me standing in the rain!” It instantly calls to mind a drenched John Cusack loitering outside his ex’s apartment and yelling obscenities in High Fidelity.

In “No Reservations”, Mould hints at his sequestration in a secluded farmhouse one year later. It’s the writing space in which his solo career—namely, 1989’s Workbook—was birthed. “Nothing changes the things I feel inside / Sit by a lake and cry,” he intones with confidence behind his open-hearted overshare. However, it’s not just the flannel, Upstate New York roots, and penchant for lakeside meditation that leads me to dub Mould the Henry David Thoreau of alternative rock. His songs are interrogational and introspective, postulating life philosophies and self-help counsel besides his Minnesotan Walden. “These are your important years / You better make them last,” he advises on album opener “These Important Years”. Similarly, “It’s Not Peculiar” reminds us, “You’ve got to learn to compromise / To live inside the others’ lives.” 

As for Hart, his songs—which make up almost half of the set, trailing with nine behind Bob’s 11—are character-based. On the war-disparaging “You’re a Soldier”, he denigrates a vainglorious young troop: “Running around like an insane maniac / Anywhere that you please / Taking advantage of anyone handy / To satisfy your disease.” Elsewhere, “Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope” looks at an impoverished young adoptee who meets a man digging through trash. Together, they find a way to live prudently and hopefully. Halfway in, “She Floated Away” centers around a young girl who bucks societal and familial expectations and “floats away” to live her own life. 

The vacillation between the two composers’ pieces gives listeners the sensation of being in the middle of an argument without knowing who’s winning. Spotify’s play count confirms that it’s Mould, despite Hart’s “You Can Live at Home” technically having the last word. Undoubtedly, there is a trajectory—arguably even a narrative—to the LP’s fractiousness (as with any two-sided conversation of substance). 

The more plaintive songs arrive at the album’s back half when the debate starts to run out of time. One of these, “Turn It Around”, feels the closest to pure collaboration (or at least a last-ditch plea to “turn it around / Before it goes into the ground”). Some of the record’s cleanest guitars are here, decorated with a gooey synth lead. The track is Mould’s address to Hart: a poignant pause in which he asks that they contemplate the band’s rapid deterioration and let the sadness of that reality wash over everything. 

Another critical track is “Ice Cold Ice”, arguably the fan-favorite inclusion to graduate from this LP. At the very least, it’s one of the strongest. As well as a hate-love homage to the polar conditions of their native Minnesota, “Ice Cold Ice” can be partially interpreted as a reference to Hart and Mould’s frosty relationship. “We’ll stay together till the end (ice cold ice) / Thinking you might be a friend (ice cold ice),” the lyrics state. But more than that—and more than its being one of four songs on which Mould references his predilection for a good cry—it’s one of the most musically exciting. 

Anchored in D minor, the track is led by a stampede of drums and a paranoid bass line while Mould’s blue-hued chords reverberate like gusts of vessel-popping wind. It’s a salient example of Mould’s simultaneous lead and rhythm playing, as he picks out melody notes while leaving other strings ringing out during the chorus. The juxtaposition of a minor key verse and a major key chorus (or, in this case, pre-chorus) is an archetypal Hüsker Dü technique and one that everyone from Billy Corgan to J Mascis has enjoyed in the years since. The song closes with a final booming chord, like a front door slamming shut on the merciless chill outside.

Warehouse offered more answers and insight than the apparent disorganization suggests. Perhaps the only thing the album didn’t foreshadow was Greg Norton’s career as a restaurateur. The mustachioed bass player opened The Norton’s Restaurant in Red Wing, Minnesota, in the early 1990s (before joining avant-garde jazz band Gang Font 15 years later). Of course, Hüsker Dü’s roots and career were deeply entrenched in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Warehouse was the band’s fourth album recorded at Nicollet Studios—now Creation Audio—on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. They also commandeered a neighboring office building that’s now a Mexican restaurant. Hart and Mould first met at Cheapo Records (the former an employee and the latter a customer) in the other Twin City, Saint Paul. And their legacy is marked by a hall-of-fame star outside the First Avenue nightclub in downtown Minneapolis. 

If there’s an overriding conclusion to be drawn from Warehouse, it shouldn’t be the infighting or the destructive drug use. Instead, it should be that this was the album that heralded the inauspicious end to such a revolutionary force of musical innovation. Our ancestors endured hardships so that we could enjoy modern freedoms. Likewise, Hüsker Dü—progenitors of numerous sub-genres and luminary rock acts—struggled through a cloud of malaise and grief so that we could have Dookie, The Color and the Shape, Nevermind, Doolittle, Siamese Dream, and too many other albums to list. 

Whether you know it’s your final farewell, or you just want to maintain the embrace a little longer before shifting focus to the future, it’s natural to lash out, open up, and try something a bit different. Upfront and pure in its aims, Warehouse: Songs and Stories was a generous, if awkward, goodbye from a band standing as tall as ever yet getting drenched in the process.