Zen Arcade Review

artist: Hüsker Dü date: 05/29/2007 category: compact discs
Hüsker Dü: Zen Arcade
Release Date: 1984
Label: SST
Genres: American Underground, College Rock, Punk, Alternative Pop/Rock, Hardcore Punk, American Punk
Number Of Tracks: 23
In many ways, it's impossible to overestimate the impact of Hsker Du's Zen Arcade on the American rock underground in the '80s.
 Sound: 10
 Lyrics: 10
 Overall Impression: 8
 Overall rating:
 9.3 
 Reviewer rating:
 9.3 
 Users rating:
 9.3 
 Votes:
 16 
 Views:
 240 
review (1) 11 comments vote for this album:
overall: 9.3
Zen Arcade Reviewed by: Aetherael, on may 29, 2007
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sound: With punk rock's revival in the '80s came a set of unwritten laws for said punk bands to follow; dress this way, since like this, use these chords, and only use certain subject matter. The latter rule being that the lyrics must be extroverted, viewing the world aroud you with as little personal emotion or opinion as possible. Husker Du broke that rule on it's most fundamental level with the release of the massively expansive "Zen Ardace." The 70 minute opus details the story of a child from a broken home that leaves to enter the real world, using frugs, sex, and religion to escape the pain of living in a world full of social decay and disillusionment, only to wake up and find that is was all a dream, concluded with a sprawling 14 minute instrumental to portray the child's awakening. The tale is told from the first person perspective of Husker Du's two singers, guitarist Bob Mould, and drummer Grant Hart. Do to the fact that the story is in first person, it's details are very fluid and difficult to follow, but the two writers work off each other to paint a picture of the child's world through a myriad of genres and atmospheres, Husker Du blaspheme punk's unwavering stylistic boundries with forays into psychedelia, jazz, acoustic folk, and even almost new-age piano interludes, that most "hardcore" punk bands even now would be leary to attempt. Of course, there are still obvious signs of hardcore punk intact: primal screams (though they sound more pain-wracked than the traditionally angery), songs that generally clock at under 3 minutes in time, and intentionally poor recording to give the record a more "raw" sound. In fact, not only did Husker Du record this album independent of a label or professional recording studio, but all but two songs are first takes. Its primal sound, dreamscape-y lyrics and atmosphere, and highly emotive tonal backdrops make this album on a straight through listen seem almost like a dream in and of itself. Was this what Husker Du intended? Probably not, but the effect is there, and were it not for the creation of this magnum opus of pre-alternative rock, for better or for worse, most styles of modern punk/pop rock, emo, and alternative rock would never exist as we know it today. // 10

Lyrics: The lyrics are actually one of the album's strongest points, in spite of the fact that they are very often indiscernible do to the recording's hazyness and the singers' somewhat mumbled screams. Still, this is where the legendary work of Mould and Hart's collaborative lyrical poetry began. Hart supports the album's theme of a bad dream with off kilter, whimsical, and surreal poems that are often the focus for scenes of drugs and spirituality that need such abstract detail. Mould then elaborates with more overt confessions of the child's actual feeling and opinions. Essentailly, Hart builds a scene, Mould plays the character in the scene. Though sometimes overwrought and nonsensical, the lyrics convey a child's confusion about being out of place in a cruel, unstable world that eeriely mirrors one in reality. The lyrics create an almost sign of the times, zeitgiest-esq social statement about the times in which the album was recorded. They are a statement about a disenchanted generation, worthy to stand up to the Who's "Tommy." Perhaps the child wasn't really dreaming, only seeing the same world in a different place. Maybe he was looking in at the world we live in. // 10

Overall Impression: "Zen Arcade" is often critically lauded as the forerunner of modern alternative and one of the best punk albums ever made. As far as I see it, it's a yes and no situation. True, it was highly influential and does make for an unbelievable listen, but unless you are willing to sit down and listen to some of the most challenging punk music ever recorded for 70 minutes straight, the full effect isn't totally present and the magic is somewhat lost. It's an amazing record for those couragous enough to tackle it, but I wouldn't recommend it to the faint of heart or close-minded. But for those who have a taste for artistry beyond the generic interpretation of what "art" actually is, these is a classic treasure to be discovered beneath Mould's wall of guitars and Hart's galloping jazz drumming to the primal screams of a child lost in a broken world, a little to close to home, and a little too real. // 8

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