After Hüsker Dü had come to a messy end in 1988, and before he would form the (equally groundbreaking) Sugar, Bob Mould found the time to release Workbook. It may be semi-acoustic and slightly folky, but Workbook still packs a great deal of punch, and fans of 90s grunge would be well advised to give it a spin. If you're coming from a Hüsker Dü perspective, you might be surprised that Mould sings rather than screams throughout the album. And it’s somewhat ironic that Mould’s newly restrained vocals manage to convey his sense of betrayal towards his former bandmates better than any thrash punk screaming could have done. He's not angry, just disappointed, which as all men know is far, far worse.
After the delicate (and rather beautiful) folk instrumental Sunspots, we get the opus Wishing Well, which chugs along and contains perhaps the finest use of a cello in a song. The repetition of the “W” sound throughout the song (”Twist and shape on the winding twine / Around the spindle winds”) is clever, and the semi-yodelling towards the end nothing short of magical. It's a wonderfully cathartic song, which builds up over five minutes but never outstays its welcome.
With its winning, Sugar-y chorus, See A Little Light may not fit the musical tone of the album, but it’s another standout and hints at the direction Bob was to take. Its lyrics, however, reflect the general ‘break-up’ theme:
“I see a little light, I know you will
I can see it in your eyes, I know you still care
But if you want me to go
You should just say so”
Poison Years is the track most obviously addressed to his former bandmates, with Mould spitting out “At the end of this rope / Rope at the end of the line / I see you swing by your neck on a vine.” It starts off brooding, before coming alive with a bombastic guitar solo. Things settle down with the acoustic Sinners And Their Repentances, which again is dominated by a mournful cello.
If there is one problem with the album it is that the production causes some of the songs to sound samey, especially towards the end of the album. Brasilia Crossed With Trenton is 6 minutes of aimless strumming, and there is a good song somewhere in Compositions for the Young and Old but the sludgy guitar drags it down. Mould’s half-folk, half-grunge break-up record may not have aged particularly gracefully, but provides an interesting new direction for a man who would become known for them (his 2002 electronica album Modulate being a notable example of this). The production would improve on the follow-up, Black Sheets of Rain, but Workbook's songs give it the edge.