Albums for The Apocalypse #4: Hüsker Dü’s “Zen Arcade”

March 23, 2020 | By

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            As someone who prides himself on his interest in all things punk, thrash, and hardcore (as well as being the only DJ at WXCI who strictly plays these genres) my answer for the greatest punk album of all time is cemented clearly in my mind. It’s the magnum opus of the crowning jewel of the band known as Hüsker Dü; “Zen Arcade”.

            The album sees Bob Mould and company taking the set-in-stone style of hardcore punk that blasted onto the scene in the early eighties, and completely turning it on its head. Each song is a miasma of screeching hardcore punk vocals mixed with staticky alternative rock guitar riffs that grind inside your ears. It’s an assault of different genres all coming together and forming a strangely pleasing gestalt of a punk album, with elements of acoustic folk on the track “Never Talking to You Again”, borderline psychedelic tunes in “Hare Krsna” and “Pink Turns to Blue” and piano interludes littering the record that are rarely seen in punk albums. All the while never losing touch with its hardcore roots, which can be felt in the animalistic vocals on tracks like “Pride” and “I Will Never Forget You”.

            It’s impossible to talk about ZA without mentioning that it’s a concept album (it should become apparent based on previous articles that I’m a bit of a sucker for concept albums). The album tells the story of a disenfranchised youth running away to escape his abusive home life only to be thrust into a world that is harsher than he could have ever imagined. His struggles take him all over the country; weaving stories of his time in the military, finding god, experiencing love, and turning toward drugs for comfort, all the while struggling with the demons of his past and the cold reality that surrounds him. Towards the end of the album he realizes that his efforts are hopeless and it is impossible for him to change the change the path he has been set on, only to wake up and realize that the whole experience has been a vivid subconscious dream and all the troubles of his life are still laid out before him. The album concludes with the fourteen-minute instrumental track “Reoccurring Dreams” signifying the endless cycle of his broken lifestyle.

            “Zen Arcade” may well be, in my opinion, the greatest work of music ever made. It is an album that must be heard in one sitting, demanding the listeners full attention from start to finish. It opened the door for the genre to expand its influences beyond the crowded basements and run-down concert halls it called home. It’s a work of art that broadened the horizons of previously elitist hardcore kids like myself and allowed us to dip our toes into a world of music we had deemed “not punk enough”. The ripples of this album’s influence can be felt throughout the punk and alternative genres. Going so far as to inspire another one of my favorite albums, “Double Nickels on the Dime” by The Minutemen, which I will probably write an article about very soon.

            While I don’t think that any work of art- be it musical or physical- can ever truly be considered perfect, fans of the genre and newcomers alike can all agree that this album comes pretty damn close.

-DJ Wild Bill


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Category: Reviews