Rediscovering Soul Asylum With Hurry Up and Wait
Dave Pirner releases the best music with Soul Asylum since Grave Dancers Union with Hurry Up and Wait.
I have to admit that I really haven’t listened to much Soul Asylum since the early 1990s. Grave Dancers Union was released in 1992 and the band toured with Screaming Trees and Spin Doctors the next year in support of it. I managed to catch the tour that summer, just after my high school graduation. It was a great show and Spin Doctors were actually pretty good live, albeit overshadowed by both Soul Asylum and Screaming Trees. 1992-93 were pretty much the highpoint of Soul Asylum’s career. The band’s mastermind (and only original remaining member) Dave Pirner, was at the peak of his personal popularity too, and not just because he was Mr. Winona Ryder at the time (the two were together from 93-96). With Grave Dancers Union, Pirner catapulted the band into the country’s collective rock unconscious. Soul Asylum came of age along with fellow Minneapolis rockers Husker Du, Babes in Toyland, and The Replacements, but arguably earned the most widespread recognition and fame, if not critical acclaim. The early punk stylings of Pirner later morphed, much like the solo outings of Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) and Bob Mould (Husker Du) did, into a more melodic midwestern alt-rock which undoubtedly helped all three reach a larger audience. Regardless, many kids like myself, who were more interested in Screaming Trees and harder core grunge, enjoyed Grave Dancers Union for its harder tracks like “Somebody To Shove,” and promptly moved on. What a bunch of fools we turned out to be.
Despite various periods of hiatus, an unfortunate death of a band member, and Pirner’s own personal battles (he and his wife divorced a few years ago), he has remained a prolific songwriter over the years, releasing 6 albums since 1992’s Grave Dancers Union with Soul Asylum. While the subsequent albums, Let Your Dim Light Shine (1995), Candy From a Stranger (1998), The Silver Lining (2006), Delayed Reaction (2012), Change of Fortune (2016) and this year’s Hurry Up and Wait, never produced the amount of radio singles that Grave Dancers Union did, each and every one of them is loaded with Pirner’s brand of alt-midwest-rock that measures up, in most cases, to anything off Grave Dancers Union. Over the years, Soul Asylum’s sound has remained consistent, with a few experimental moments thrown in, but it is their newest album that most concisely encapsulates the best of the band’s sound that stretches all the way back to their 1992 heyday.
While Pirner would have obviously written, recorded, and released a solid Soul Asylum album wherever he was living, one can’t help but think that being back in his old hometown of Minneapolis didn’t help recenter his focus or at least point of view. Pirner lived in New Orleans for 16 years, but as he remarked in a recent article for SPIN, “For so long, I felt like I didn’t know where home was. I finally tried to settle down in New Orleans, and that didn’t work out. There are certain parts of being back in Minnesota that are surprisingly satisfying…I can’t really explain why, but part of it was being back in Minneapolis, and just being able to hit the studio at a moment’s notice. I liked being back where I started and feeling comfortable with the band.”
Hurry Up and Wait is the kind of album that has great tone, rhythm, and lyrics like most Soul Asylum albums do, but they all come together here better than they have since Grave Dancers Union, with few exceptions. While quirky alt-rock moments rear their head (see “Busy Signals”), riff-driven rockers like “Got It Pretty Good,” “Freezer Burn,” and the exceptional “Hopped Up Feeling” exist perfectly alongside gorgeous ballads the likes of which Pirner and Soul Asylum have become known for. While none of them quite reach the heights of “Runaway Train” or the exquisite “Misery,” “If I Told You,” “Social Butterfly,” and the album’s strongest song “Dead Letter” get closer to the perfection that is “Misery” than Pirner has gotten recently. That is not to say that the albums in between Grave Dancers Union and Hurry Up and Wait are throwaway or not good. Quite the contrary. It’s just that the new songs feel more relaxed, honest, and personal.
It’s possible that I am biased towards Hurry Up and Wait though, as I, again, shamefacedly have to admit that I’m really only rediscovering Soul Asylum now, and with this album. It’s part of the reason I waited to write about Pirner’s newest music until now. I had to thoroughly absorb the albums between Grave Dancers Union and Hurry Up and Wait to credibly make the assertion above. I’m convinced it’s a sound one. While it is embarrassing to admit that I basically missed almost twenty years of amazing music from Soul Asylum, I relished the opportunity to spend time getting to know Dave Pirner’s music again. It’s like he just put out a career’s worth of music at once from my perspective, and Hurry Up and Wait is a new peak in what should be a career that will span another twenty years in rock.