NOVA MOB - The Last Days Of Pompeii (1994)

NOVA MOB "The Last Days Of Pompeii" (1994)

Genre: Alternative
Style: Experimental, Noise, Indie
Label: Rough Trade

After Hüsker broke up, the general opinion was that the main cause of the increased tension and following break-up had always been the incorrigible Hart, with his erratic behaviour and substance abuse. Some people even went as far as to suggest he was a completely helpless musician when left on his own, but they were silenced when Hart, and not the universally lauded Mould, was the first to come up with a solo release (the acoustic live EP 2541), and his first album Intolerance, released a year later, was as good as – if not better, than Mould’s less confusing Workbook. Anyway, a yearning to play in the classic power-trio line-up instigated him to form Nova Mob (no relation to Julian Cope’s early outfit), which should become a vehicle for his ambitious vision. With Tom Merkl (bass) and Michael Crego (drums), he recorded and released The Last Days of Pompeii to very mixed reviews: while some reviewers called it the worst music any of the Hüskers had done since their ultra-violent debut a decade earlier, others just couldn’t make sense out of the confusing rock opera that it was. With its wordy lyrics, including countless references to military history, pop culture, space programs and biblical matter, the album’s indeed a seemingly impenetrable mishmash of thoughts and ideas, but at the core of it, Hart’s melodic gift is still intact.

Musically, it tries to conciliate genres such as folk-rock and neo-psychedelic rock with a few sonic experiments thrown in for eccentricity’s sake. While the infatuation with war and weapons of mass destruction (some sources even suggest Thomas Pynchon’s grandiose, chaotic novel Gravity’s Rainbow was one of the main influences) leads the opening introduction to proceed with a militaristically pronounced backbeat, the following “Woton” already shows off the more experimental side of the album. Enigmatic and repetitive, driven by Crego’s rudimentary drumming (Hart having switched to – nearly inaudible – guitar) and the singer’s distorted vocals, it already points forward to the similar, but more impressive, “Space Jazz” (the only thing ‘jazzy’ about it being Merkl’s fluid bass playing), an extended dirge over which Hart’s spoken ramblings, sounding like a static-polluted broadcast from the moon, mentions 20th century events, quotes from the bible and other assorted oddities. However, besides these fairly morose tracks, things are lightened up by a batch of spunky rock songs. The catchy “Wernher Von Braun” (starting off with the nonsensical “Well her favorite color’s Wernher Von Braun” or something like that) is a swift, jangly ditty that’s a showcase for Hart’s undiminished talent for finding melodies that sound like long-forgotten treasures. Equally accessible are the danceable bounce of “Admiral of the Sea” (also present in a more pensive, ‘slow’ version), that has more in common with Britain’s Madchester-craze of 1990 than Hüsker ’s ragged guitar rock, and the excellent album closer “The Last Days of Pompeii/Benediction.” In the meantime, Hart also treads calmer territory with the vibraphone-embellished “Getaway” (until it explodes into rock at the end), the magnificent “Over My Head,” which has to be one of the most magnificent pop songs he’s ever written (that chorus will have you sing along in two seconds flat), and the twosome “Persuaded” and “Lavender and Grey.” Of these two, I’d give the nod to the “Lavender,” not only because it’s the best sounding song on the entire album (the drums finally sound agreeable), but also because it boasts some surprisingly charming whistling (I have no idea at all why some music journalist called it a pathetic “Joe Cocker imitation” – huh?). Anyway, The Last Days of Pompeii ain’t no match for semi-divine trio of Hüsker ’s SST-albums, but it doesn’t deserve its obscure status either. In fact, despite the fact that his discography is quite limited (and I’d take Hart eight years to come up with another true winner), it’s a travesty as pure as they come that this album is completely neglected/ignored/forgotten these days. As far as rock operas go, Pompeii simply delivers the goods in its own, unique way.

[Tracklist:]

1. introduction
2. woton
3. getaway (gateway) in time
4. admiral of the sea (79 a.d. version)
5. wernher von braun
6. space jazz
7. where you gonna land (next time you fall off of your mountain)?
8. over my head
9. admiral of the sea
10. persuaded
11. lavender and grey
12 the last days of pompeii / benedict

NOVA MOB - The Last Days Of Pompeii (1994)
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