I will admit that I picked up my first Soul Asylum record, 1986's Made To Be Broken, back in 1986 simply because it was produced by Bob Mould. At the time, I thought I could detect a faint hint of Husker Du in the tunes of Soul Asylum. Though, when listened to now, this record more than stands on its own. Reissued this Friday with 1984's Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen thanks to the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings, the first 2 Soul Asylum releases sound fresh and vibrant, further proof that the mid-Eighties was an era when genuinely punchy and edgy offerings could be found in the domain of college rock
And while the specter of the woolly-haired Dave Pirner miming to "Runaway Train" lingers, an MTV-ghost from the days when it was a big deal when an alt-rock band broke through thanks to Cobain and co. paving the way first, it's worth remembering that Soul Asylum were legitimate players long before grunge crossed over. Rising in the Midwest in the shadow of Husker Du (a band they borrowed some punch from) and The Replacements (a band they borrowed drunken tunefulness from), Soul Asylum hit the ground running on Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen. Produced by Bob Mould, this debut feels surprisingly ramshackle, the loose "Voodoo Doll" crashing past in a rush, the woozy "Sick of That Song" revealing a debt owed to Westerberg. Elsewhere here, there are a clutch of songs from Loud Fast Rules, the predecessor band to Soul Asylum featuring members Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy, and Karl Mueller. The tracks are of their era, traces of hardcore showing through the seams of "Your Clock", even as an X influence rears its head in "Nowhere to Go", a rough cow-punk attempt. Rounded out by a fun stab at CCR's "Bad Moon Rising", this reissue of Say What You Want... Anything Can Happen re-establishes the punk credentials of this lot.
In the Spring of 1986, I got Candy Apple Grey on cassette. I loved the album so much that I sought out any Husker Du release, straying so far from the band itself that I bought Made to Be Broken by Soul Asylum simply because Bob Mould produced the record. To my surprise, the release was a neat blend of the things I loved about Husker Du, with large doses of the sort of ragged melodicism I dug about Replacements releases. Lots of what was Side 1 still carries an impressive level of heft, from the country-honk hooks of "Ship of Fools", to the rough alt-country traces peaking through the edges of the title song, but it's the harder selections on what was Side 2 of this release that still pack a huge punch. "Whoa!" is still, gloriously, abrasive, the sound Mould would have made fronting Westerberg's band, while "New Feelings" and "Lone Rider" suggest the lingering influence of earlier American punk bands on the sound here. The rarities and unreleased tracks on this Omnivore Recordings reissue suggest an even rougher iteration of Pirner and crew, numbers like "Song of the Terrorist" and "20 Year Itch" positively brutal, indications that the influence of labels like SST and Dischord was reaching the middle of America.
Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen and Made to Be Broken hold up fairly well and kudos to the folks at Omnivore Recordings for reissuing both of these in such fine editions. A band that was sorely in need of a re-evaluation, these recordings re-affirm the greatness of Soul Asylum, a band so much more than a bunch of one-hit wonders from the Clinton years.
Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen (1984) and Made To Be Broken (1986) are both out this Friday from Omnivore Recordings.
[Photo: Uncredited promotional images from label]