Ten years from now, somebody might listen to a monumentally daring and ambitious record and call it "The 'Zen Arcade' of 1995."
That would be only fair, because when Husker Du's "Zen Arcade" came out last year, critics started doing back flips and comparing it to everything from the Beatles' "White Album" to the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street" to the Who's "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia."
That's privileged company, but the comparisons are apt. "Zen Arcade's" four sprawling sides of intense, first-take music form a loose "concept" story of a youth's wanderings, from religious cults to the military, from rock band to computer desk. The music is a blend of blistering punk, hard-edged folk, dense metal, yearning pop and raging, thrilling psychedelia that flirts with profound chaos.
Not bad for a modest little Minneapolis trio that started out with a following of hard-core punk fans who liked Husker Du's ability to play at the speed of sound. But Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton were never card-carrying punks in terms of personal style and political outlook, and their broader musical leanings became evident just before "Zen Arcade," when they released a stunning version of the Byrds' classic "Eight Miles High."
Husker Du's latent pop tendencies emerged full force in the recent "New Day Rising" album, but don't get the idea that the group has gone soft. Even when it has a buoyant lilt, the music retains a certain abrasiveness. But tracks like the ineffably charming "I Apologize" and "Books About UFO's" could prove landmarks in punk's evolution beyond hard-core.