Sound — 10
Taken in context, "New Day Rising" is an appropriate title for what many critics (and I) consider to be Husker Du's most triumphant accomplishment. After the heavy and violent 'Zen Arcade," "New Day Rising" may seem too pop-ish for more fundamental punk listeners. Gone are the thrashed, atonal guitar lines, replaced with listenable power chords and catchy hooks. The throat scarring screams are also traded in for a generally more clean vocal approach (though only about half the time). Some passages on this album even bare similarities to "Born to Run"-era Springsteen or even early rock-style Hendrix. Though not anywhere near as sprawling or overty experimental as "Zen Arcade," "New Day Rising" streches the boundaries of punk so far that many don't even call this record punk anymore. Acoustic interludes and piano struts make this record far more pop/rock than many traditionalists became uncomfortable with. In many ways, "New Day Rising" marked the most radical turns in Husker Du's career; it bridged the gap between early hardcore punk albums like "Zen Arcade" and "Metal Circus" with their straightforward pop ventures like "Candy Apple Grey" and "Warehouse." Tracks like "Celebrated Summer" have the melodic catchiness that juxtaposes hardcore leftovers like "Plans I Make" to make for the most varied effort of Husker Du's career. It also marked Bob Mould and Grant Hart's gradual schism apart in musical vision that would eventually bring Husker Du's career to a sudden end. But while the divide was controlled, they wrote some of the best music of either of their careers separately, using differences to fuel creative competition instead of control. "New Day Rising" is possibly the most artistic and emotional outing Husker Du ever produced, though widely ignored for it's inconsistencies. It's a shame really, it didn't have the "underground" cred that "Zen Arcade" had or the radio appeal that later records had, but it's charm and beauty rank as some of the most beautiful punk music has ever heard, and it serves as a fitting conclusion to one of punk's most powerful bands. But even more than a goodbye to punk, it is a new beginning that marked some of the first ventures into fully formed alternative; the first day of one of the most prominent genres in modern music.
Lyrics — 10
"Zen Arcade" saw Mould and Hart writing lyrics collaboratively to create a story with synched up lyrics to mold a coherent story. "New Day Rising" shows the two now writing songs that stand alone; and with no linking storyline to follow, the two revealed exactly what kind of vision they both had for the band as individuals. Hart continued with quirky, abstract stories that had some slight socio-political slants. Mould continued with emotional, introspective confessions of pain and loss. The difference between records is that now there are a myriad of characters that stand apart from the two writers' visions. There is almost a creative competition present between Mould and Hart; who can write the most vivid and emotional stories, and who can conjure up the most likable characters. The two writers match talents on almost evey set of songs present; Hart's "Girl who Lives on Heaven Hill" is answered with an equally sad tale in the form of Mould's "Celebrated Summer." Hart's quirky "Books about UFOs" is met at odds with Mould's odd spoken-word list about "How to Skin a Cat." Neither writer ever really "wins," but the competition seems to have brought out their talents to the heights of their abilities. They never sounded so impassioned with punk fury and emotional weariness, and they wouldn't ever sound so honest ever again.
Overall Impression — 10
"New Day Rising" is an almost perfect fusion of punk power and passion with media friendly catchiness. Blasphemy in most hardcore circles perhaps, but the melding of genres created a hodge-podge powerful artistry that rivals most of the more mainstream artists that have made it into the rock and roll hall of fame. Radically underappreciated, "New Day Rising"'s significance is still undeniable. A Rolling Tone Top 500 album, the essential genesis of alternative rock, and an album that rocks far beyond the thresholds of its piers, "New Day Rising" may very well be one of the most inspired albums of the past 30 years.