Much, much too late I discovered Sugar and the fantastic Copper Blue. Ever since I know about the album, it has been part of my all-time favorites.
Bob Mould’s career started in 1979 with the American punk rock band Hüsker Dü, hailing from Minneapolis, that delivered a number of highly influential albums in the 1980s. When the band expanded beyond the boundaries of hardcore with Zen Arcade the band was lauded even more. Major record company Warner Bros. offered the band a deal in 1985. But after Candy Apple Grey (1986) and Warehouse: Songs And Stories (1987), their manager’s suicide and the ever escalating tensions between Bob Mould and fellow composer Grant Hart, the band quit in 1987. Hüsker Dü officially disbanded on January 26, 1988. Hüsker Dü’s influence on alternative rock cannot be overstated: Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Therapy? are just a few bands that explicitly cited Hüsker Dü as a major influence.
Grant Hart started a solo career and later formed the band Nova Mob. Bob Mould followed the same path. He signed a deal with Virgin and released two solo albums, the folk inspired Workbook (1989) and the heavier Black Sheets Of Rain, both of which generated little success. Mould lost his record deal.
Mould didn’t despair though, he quickly recorded demos for over 30 new songs and founded a new band with bass player David Barbe and drummer Malcolm Travis, a three man band, just like Hüsker Dü. The band was named Sugar, after Mould saw a sugar packet lying on the table of a restaurant he and the band members frequented. Following a couple of weeks of intense playing at R.E.M.’s rehearsal space in Athens, Georgia, Sugar played their first ever concert on February 20, 1992.
Right around that time the world of music had gone through a major change. Hüsker Dü acolytes Nirvana had popularized alternative music and grunge with their hit album Nevermind. It seemed Mould and his Sugar were on the right end of history this time. Mould said: “When Nevermind came out, that album changed the way people listen to music. A lot of the songs that I had been writing in 1991 led up to my next group, Sugar – and had it not been for Nevermind, I don’t know if Sugar’s Copper Blue would have stood a chance in ’92. But people were now receptive to this sound”. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless was also seen as encouragement: guitar music was everywhere.
Anyway, the band was offered a record deal with Rykodisc in the US and with Creation Records in Europe. The time was ripe for the next chapter in Mould’s career.
On September 4, 1992, Sugar’s debut album was released: Copper Blue. The recording sessions for the album had proved very fruitful indeed. The sessions yielded far more songs than fit on the upcoming album, songs that would later appear on the EP Beaster.
From the very first notes of the album it’s evident that we’re dealing with a masterpiece. The sound is truly phenomenal and the power pop with beautiful melodies is impressive. The combination of good riffs, great lyrics and the fun that bursts through the speakers, makes the album an intoxicating experience. It grooves, swings, rocks and moves, all at the same time.
With influences ranging from Cheap Trick in the opening song, to the “unconscious homage” to the Pixies’ “Debaser” in A Good Idea, the album is filled with fantastic songs. Even though the subjects of the songs aren’t too bright, when combined with the music it really gels. The best example if my personal favorite on the album, The Slim. Mould: “‘The Slim’ is was what AIDS was called before it was called AIDS. The song is fictional and based on the experience of so many other people”. A heavy subject, delivered with passion, Mould gives his all vocally and has composed an addictive riff. It depicts the ultimate Sugar feeling.
On top of that, Copper Blue does contain a number of catchy songs, that did well commercially and intensified attention for the album. It’s no wonder that Copper Blue was a relative success, with critics and audiences alike. The English NME even proclaimed it to be the album of the year.
As stated in the introduction to this article, I discovered this album really late, 20 years after the fact to be exact. In 2012 the album was re-released, and I feel fortunate that I didn’t miss it this time as well. I still can’t believe it took me so long to discover this master piece. By now, I have made up for the deficit, because I have played the album to death. It’s part of my all-time favorite albums.
Copper Blue is filled with everything a power pop/alternative rock album has to contain. Sharp, powerful songs with a message, that sound both heavy and light. This is a must have album and comes, highly, highly recommended!
Four singles were culled from the album.
(released in August 1992 in the UK)
(released on August 7, 1992)
- A Good Idea
(released on October 9, 1992)
- If I Can’t Change Your Mind
(released on January 15, 1993)
All songs written by Bob Mould.
- The Act We Act
- A Good Idea
- Hoover Dam
- The Slim
- If I Can’t Change Your Mind
- Fortune Teller
- Man On The Moon
In 1992 Rykodisc released a limited edition of Copper Blue. Just 2,500 copies were released in a metallic copper cover, that next to the cd also contained ‘one-of-a-kind Polaroid photo’, made by one of the band members. On the back of the photos the text “Sugar Copper Blue Summer ’92” and a unique number were printed.
On Instagram the sugarcopperbluepolaroidproject has made it its goal to collect all the Polaroid photos. The result can be seen in the header of this article.
Op July 4, 2012, Copper Blue was re-released as a 3-disc set, which contained the album’s remaster and B-sides, the Beaster EP and recording of a 1992 concert at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro. This was the release that introduced Copper Blue to me.
- Bob Mould – vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion
- David Barbe – bass
- Malcolm Travis – drums, percussion
After Copper Blue
On April 6, 1993, the EP Beaster was released, consisting of material that was recorded during the Copper Blue sessions, but was more dark and aggressive. After an exhausting tour recordings for a new album commenced. It was a laborious affair and the results ended up in the bin. On September 5, 1994, File Under: Easy Listening was finally released. This album sold rather well also, although not the same as Copper Blue. On July 16, 1995, Besides, an album with B-side, followed. That same year Sugar disbanded.
Mould reignited his solo career, but that would never generate the amount of success that was bestowed on Sugar, of which Mould said it was “two or three times bigger than the highest points of Husker Du”.
In 2012 Mould went on tour and played Copper Blue in its entirety, a tour I sadly missed due to other appointments.
On November 2, 2013, a Sugar concert, dated November 2, 1994, played at Minneapolis’s First Avenue, was released on vinyl, titled The Joke Is Always On Us, Sometimes.
What’s your take on Sugar and Copper Blue? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: In 1992 Sugar debuts with the peerless Copper Blue. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Sugar – Copper Blue – Limited Edition Copper Cover image: discogs.com/instagram.com
Sugar – Promo image: en-academic.com
Sugar – Copper Blue image: pitchfork.com
Sugar 1992 image: spin.com
Sugar – Copper Blue – The Singles image: discogs.com
Sugar – Copper Blue – Re-release 2012 image: amazon.com
Sugar – EP & album 2-4 image: spotify.com