For some time now, I have been intending to post the Leatherface/Hot Water Music split, an almost perfect expression of gruff, emotive post-hardcore. But, I realized, there are some things that have to come in a certain order, and one of those things is the sonic arc of thoughtful, emotionally affecting punk music. Put simply, you've got to mention the 'Du.
Metal Circus is in many ways a prelude to the band's iconic Zen Arcade. It is a kind of transitory EP before the largesse of Husker Du's concept double-album, but suffers no weakness from that fact. Rather, it embodies the creative lunge from hardcore to what, musically, lies beyond. Metal Circus is a story of two halves, and as the title suggests, is firm and well-rounded. To extend the comparison a little further, the contrast between Metal Circus's grey artwork and Zen Arcades's lurid pastels is emblematic not of a preceding barrenness, but of a preparatory study in relief. Metal Circus is a tonal introduction to Husker Du's artistic richness.
Musically, the EP begins with typically relentless and blistering hardcore. From 'Real World' to 'Lifeline' the let-up is only relative, a visceral slice of early 80s SST hardcore punk. Yet the creativity and variation is apparent: the mature, reflective politics of 'Real World'; the proto-Lifetime, post-Undertones affection of 'It's Not Funny Anymore'; and all with a nascent, unpolished covering of Husker Du's distinct melodic sound.
Slowing things down somewhat, on the second side is the song which defines the album, for better or for worse - 'Diane'. Basically, as far as anyone knows, the somewhat disturbing lyrics come from a real-life tragedy the band were personally connected to, or rather aware of, and their consequent black comedic/darkly sarcastic expression of it. Even if only musically, 'Diane' showcases the sheer brilliance of Husker Du - the whole record merely showcasing their excellence - in melody, emotion and sincerity. And yet it truly is a hardcore track, bathed in distortion, illustrating another dichotomy within the band; between the nostalgic, popular gentleness of 'Diane' and the following anarchic, masochistic destructiveness of 'Out on a Limb'; both songs, furthermore, lie underneath the impossible weight of as much emotion as any group, hardcore or not, have ever put into their music.
Finally, I might possibly say that this is the single best album I have posted up on this blog yet, at least from the purely aesthetic view of hardcore. When, next, I put up the aforementioned split, it will perhaps be a close second, but certainly it will be with the knowledge that the heartfelt words of Frankie Stubbs, Chuck Ragan et al. were merely building on what came before.
apologies for the lack of umlauts...