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MUSIC / SUGAR : How Sweet It Is : Former member of Husker Du leads a three-piece alternative pop band that is on top of the college charts.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bob Mould’s new band, Sugar, is a three-piece alternative outfit on top of the college charts. College radio is mostly the good stuff radio programmers are too dumb to play. He’s got a lot of fans, and many of them are rock critics. A sampling of some sweet adjectives directed at Sugar:

“Sterling . . . affecting . . . continuing vitality,” “godlike,” ". . . the dawning of a new era,” “as thundering as it is tuneful,” " . . . smashing debut,” “a ripsnorter.”

“I think the press likes me because I’m not a liar,” Mould said during a recent phone conversation from North Carolina. “I think alternative music is anything I don’t like. We play pop music--we’re a pop band. I think there’s only good music or bad music. I mean is Madonna alternative to Michael Bolton who is the alternative to pavement?”

Mould, who looks like your basic accountant next door, surfaced in the late ‘70s with those Minneapolis-based punk pop rockers, Husker Du. They released about a million albums and singles on SST Records and toured incessantly with bands such as the Minutemen and Black Flag, bands for whom the word ballad does not exist. The critics loved Mould even then, and albums such as 1984’s “Zen Arcade” ended up on a lot of year-end Top 10 lists.

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“Husker Du broke up,” Mould said. “We had eight good years and one bad one. Sugar doesn’t do any oldies.”

Next, Mould signed with giant Virgin Records and released a couple of solo albums. Then he bailed out to form Sugar with ex-Zulu Malcolm Travis on drums and ex-Mercyland bassist David Barbe and now records for independent label Rykodisc. The new one, “Copper Blue,” is a pleasant collision of energy and harmony.

“Everyone at Virgin liked the first album, but the second one confused them,” Mould said. “At Virgin, I was part of a stock portfolio, while at Ryko, I work for the people that own the company.”

Many of the Sugar reviews expressed some relief that Mould, “the tormented guitarist,” had returned to his roots after two solo releases that were dark enough to cause it to rain at Mister Rogers’ house. Tormented about what? What’s wrong? Beer’s flat? Cheeseburger cold? Only made a zillion this week?

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“I’m a pretty happy guy most of the time, except when I have to do a dozen interviews in one day,” said Mould, fretting, but minimally, over No. 12.

At least he has his fans. Fortunately, it’s not just the critics who are checking out Sugar (they’re all on the guest list anyway). Sugar lovers run the gamut from old Husker Du fans to those in positions of authority in Bill & Al’s Excellent Election campaign.

“Judging by the crowds, we have a lot of new people, a lot of David Barbe fans,” Mould said. “There’s a lot of people who like the CD and just want to see what the band’s about, plus old Husker Du fans. And the other night, Albert Gore was on television, and they were playing a Sugar song before he gave his speech.”

Mould has been at the rock star thing for a long time before Husker Du broke, making him just another 20-year overnight sensation.

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“I started playing when I was 9 years old or 23 years ago,” Mould said. “The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’ album was the first record I ever bought, and the first show I ever saw was Aerosmith when I was 14. I just decided to start a band and start playing in clubs around town. I get to play music and hang out with my friends.”

The next step for Sugar, named over coffee because the band had a gig before it had a name, is more touring and a new album by March.

WHERE AND WHEN

Sugar, Throwing Muses, Boo Radleys at the Anaconda Theater, 935 Embarcadero del Norte, 685-3112. Wednesday, 8 p.m. $15.

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