Certain albums, for me, are forever attached to a memory – sometimes good, sometimes bad. When I first bought/heard Workbook in the summer of ’89 on Virgin, it was an unhappy period – I was in a state of turmoil with my then-long-term girlfriend; my mother had died in the spring, The Punch Line had split up (for the first time) a few months previously and I was coming up on having to make decisions on my future with the end of my student days. So the bleakness of that album fit my darkened mood – thus, I didn’t like it. It wasn’t a salve; it was an aural reminder that my life (or my view at the time: life in general) was shit and that I was surrounded by negatives. Thus, I listened to it a few times, put it away and never thought about it again.
Fast forward to a few years ago: my father died, I parted company with my best friend of some 20 years; my marriage was in trouble and I was in a state of emotional upheaval. Deja vu from 1989. However, during that period, with all this new and unwanted darkness, I took comfort in some very specific musical sources – and Bob Mould’s catalog was one of those emollients to help me help myself out of the rut. I revisited, re-listened to and re-digested Workbook (and his entire solo output) with fresh ears and a new perspective. And lyrically, I could thread a lot of what I was feeling at that moment together – the songs on Workbook – most notably “Poison Years”, “Lonely Afternoon”, “Sinners And Their Repentances” and “See A Little Light” had more weight and meaning to me on a personal level. So I have a great affection for this album.
This 25th Anniversary edition (from the good people at Omnivore) does add some neat items – “All Those People Know”, the B-side to the “See A Little Light” single is included; the second disc is a full concert from Chicago. While many of these songs are on Workbook, the real gems are Mould’s rendition of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out The Lights” and an unreleased Mould original, “If You’re True” (originally one of the planned tracks for what would have been Husker Du’s 1988 album that never happened).
Now that I’m on the cusp of my 50th birthday, it’s nice to go back and listen to an old friend again and see that we’ve made it to this point – a little battle tested and tired, but at least lighter than the original load. That’s how I view Workbook – a heavy record to lighten the load.