BOB MOULD Bob Mould (Creation)

"The Twentieth Century has not been particularly kind to me" growls Bob on "I Hate Alternative Rock", one of the lighter moments of this, his third solo album. His lyrics are still as deeply personal as at any time during his stewardship of the late lamented Hüsker Dü and Sugar, spiked with more bile and vitriol than even Luke Haines or Thom Yorke could muster, e.g. "The next time that you leave/I’m burning everything you own" or "No one walks away, not this time" from "Roll Over And Die". "Thumbtack" sees the protagonist sticking a drawing pin on a map at the site of his partner’s suspected affair, until "The map began to rip apart/I watched it falling to the floor/I didn’t bother moving my thumbtack any more".

The music supporting these outpourings is probably the poppiest Mould’s produced since the first Sugar album, which means not very; it’s more varied and appealing than the grunge sludgefest that was "File Under: Easy Listening", without reaching the intensity levels of the brief-but-brilliant "Beaster" mini-album. The sleevenotes suggest an album that had to be made, littered with lines such as "Bob Mould is Bob Mould" (he wrote, produced and played the entire album himself) and "This one is for me". Despite a poptastic appeal rating verging on zero, "Bob Mould" is an occasionally harrowing, sometimes wonderful, addition to rock’s music-as-therapy canon, in the grand tradition started by John Lennon’s "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band".

BOB MOULD The Last Dog And Pony Show (Creation)

"The Last Dog And Pony Show" is the second album of the second phase of Bob Mould’s solo career (which he seems to fit in between fronting earth-shatteringly influential power trios: this is the man, remember, who was the driving force behind both Hüsker Dü and Sugar!), which, if recent interviews are to be believed, marks his final fling with amplified instrumentation, at least on stage. What next: unplugged versions of "In A Free Land" and "She Floated Away"? Doesn’t seem likely, surely.

But then again maybe all this splenetic, fuzzy six-string stuff is starting to look a little old hat. "The Last Dog And Pony Show" doesn’t shake off the malaise that seems to have befallen Bob Mould’s work since the last, unhappy Sugar album. There seems to be a serious deficit of tunes here; nothing you can hum, or even recall after listening to it. There’s scarcely any variation in pace or instrumentation (which, save drums, cello and some samples, is all provided by Mould himself) and the lyrics mostly seem to deal with the same old same old edge-of-trauma panic, save diversions around the porn industry, nicotine addiction and classified advertisments, strangely enough. For all that, "The Last Dog And Pony Show" has some kind of bludgeoning, unstoppable-momentum-like power, but it’s too unfocussed to be effective. And the album’s absolute low point occurs on "Megamanic", a sample-strewn Nintendo-homage mess that just sounds ridiculous from an artist of Mould’s calibre.

Sadly, "The Last Dog And Pony Show" is the sound of a talented man ploughing an increasingly barren field. Maybe he needs to be in a band, perhaps he’s got some clever acoustic stuff planned, but a change has got to come.

BOB MOULD Modulate (Cooking Vinyl)

Since Bob Mould disbanded Sugar one album past their prime, he's helmed a stumbling sort of solo career that has failed to recapture the glories of either of his two previous bands, or even approach the dark mastery of his earlier solo album "Workbook". Around the time of his previous album, "The Last Dog And Pony Show", he threatened to turn his back on electric guitars, years of service in the post-punk wars having left his hearing ravaged with tinnitus to the extent that he once said that he couldn't get to sleep without a television on to provide some background distraction. So, "Modulate" is the first fruit of this new direction, which is, amazingly, heavily electronic.

Despite the synthesised backgrounds these songs sound like Bob Mould songs - they have the density and chunkiness that characterises much of the man's work. Unfortunately, they sound like the kind of Bob Mould songs the man's been writing since Sugar peaked with the mighty mini-album "Beaster", being rather dreary and listless. Mould's new-found interest in electronica makes a great deal of "Modulate" sound like frighteningly elaborate theme music for television news programmes, "Sunset Safety Glass" particularly, although the electric guitars (or something that sounds like electric guitars) gradually seep back as the album progresses, until, by the time you reach "The Receipt" you could be listening to any of Mould's post-Sugar solo work.

All this techno flash (Elvis remixer Junkie XL gets a nod in the thank yous) serves to obscure the fact that the lyrics are as sharp as ever, with the garage band homage "Slay/Sway" offering lines like "It blurred the lines between a CD-ROM and reality" and "I'm stuck in a room/The Sex Pistols begin to play/It was terribly lame in a predictable way". And "Trade" is a pretty fine stand-out, lilting, melodic and uncomplicated. But overall there's nothing here to rejuvenate a career mired in uncharacteristic stodginess, and certainly nothing that compares to the high-wire emotional theatrics of almost any Hüsker Dü record.

Hüsker Dü