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Sugar – Besides

Rykodisc Records, 1995

Ever since my belated enjoyment of Husker Du’s “New Day Rising” I’ve tried to give anything a chance that Bob Mould has put out.  This includes Sugar and all of their albums and EPs, for there are still traces of that Husker Du sound in some of the heavier tracks by his post-Du group.  Granted, one has to wade through a lot of lighter pop fare that can sound a bit dated fifteen or so years later, but it’s usually worth it.  When I saw this record in a dollar bin that most likely contained other Sugar albums, I built up enough imagination that convinced me the album contained a secret hard rock tune that Mould felt didn’t fit the Sugar sound.  I guess I should’ve just taken the font size of the band’s name as blatant evidence that, really, this is just Sugar.

I believe that if one is a heavy fan of a band, then that fan is very likely to pick up anything related to that band even if they are songs left off any album.  Sugar is not one of my favorite bands, so there is a risk in listening to castoff songs from a band that may or may not have needed to release a B-side record.  For the non-live tracks on this release, the quality can feel a bit lukewarm.  The first song off of the collection is “Needle Hits E”, which is a dead-on Sugar tune from Mould’s vocal approach to the all encompassing guitar sound.  It is rather shocking that it never made “Copper Blue” or any of the other main releases, for it could easily have been an excellent early track or possible single for any of Sugar’s records.  At least it made this collection, which I guess is sort of like saying it won the Best of the Ignored award.

“Try Again” sounds like a typical slow and emotional Bob Mould pop song, which one either likes for its underlying feeling or hates because it is nearly five minutes too long.  Unfortunately, whether it was through boredom or through some kind of symbolic emotional gesture, Mould chooses to end the serene tune by scratching out some lengthy feedback at the end.  Well, toss that one out.  Punt “Frustration” too because that is a really, really tedious tune to get through thanks to Mould slowing the guitars (and his voice) down to creeping levels.  “Going Home” is as amped up a Sugar as song as one is going to get, and considering it was a b-side for “File Under: Easy Listening“, I think this was a grievous non-inclusion error on the band’s part.  As decent as that record is, “Going Home” would’ve given it a lot more needed edge.  I’m sure there’s some production-related reason that this armchair music producer just wouldn’t understand, though.

Seven of the songs on this collection are live versions of songs found on the band’s studio albums.  While they are appreciated and sound similar to those studio versions, they shouldn’t be the main reason one feels the need to buy a b-side collection.  They turn out to be some of the better aspects of the record, however, since they consist of stronger Sugar tunes like “After All the Roads Have Led to Nowhere” and “Explode and Make Up”.  One small benefit to a listener who hears these live tracks is that he or she will be reminded about their original positive impression of the band.  Unfortunately, since these live tracks consist of nearly half of the tunes on the album, it is obvious that Sugar didn’t have a whole lot of extra, halfway decent originals lying around to include here.  Depends on what you’re looking for, I guess.

This guys knows (and writes) quite a bit about Sugar:  Saltyka and Sugar

The only thing that keeps this release from getting labeled as a Bust is the strength of the live tracks.  If one likes Sugar enough, this record will sound pretty good from beginning until end.  The energetic live tunes are spaced out well so that they keep the listener awake enough despite a few sleepy moments.  There is no way that a prospective Sugar listener should start with this record, as that would obviously be “Copper Blue” and “Easy Listening…” in that order.  For the future Husker Du/Bob Mould fans that may be willing to revisit the Sugar era, this album is worth a spin or two at the end of their discovery period to see if there’s anything to fill any last gaps of interest.

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