Home Read Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Nova Mob | Last Days of Pompeii

Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Nova Mob | Last Days of Pompeii

The ex-Hüsker Dü drummer’s new band aim high with this audacious concept album.

I recently went down an ADHD mini-obsession rabbit hole about where all the Nazis fled to after the Second World War ended. Some of the more brilliant ones landed cushy, top secret research and development jobs in the U.S. There’s plenty of stuff to read, listen to or watch about people like Wernher Von Braun, who developed the V2 rocket for Nazi Germany and then years later helped America get to the moon using the same technology. Twice decorated by Hitler, Von Braun’s rockets were built using slave labour.

The first time I ever heard the rocket scientist’s name was when I was 17, sung by Grant Hart. I had the vague notion that the former Hüsker Dü drummer was singing about Nazis and outer space, but — also Pompeii? I’ve finally put it all together.

After Hüsker Dü, Hart did a pair of solo albums and then started a band called Nova Mob with himself on guitar and vocals, Tom Merkl on bass — who seems to have almost exclusively worked with Hart — and Michael Crego on drums. Crego was also the drummer in Beyond Zebra, which I’ve never heard. So, it seems like they were lesser-known musicians then, and even more so now. This makes me sad because I really modelled my own drumming on that of Crego’s. I never paid much attention to Merkl until recently. Sometimes he’s steady-Eddy and other times he’s all over the place. Let’s say he’s not always a drummer’s bass player, which is odd because technically Nova Mob had two drummers. Kind of like Foo Fighters, where a musician who was a pretty famous drummer, became the frontman. Others include Phil Collins, Matt Cameron, Robert Wyatt, Ringo Starr, Karen Carpenter, Don Henley and Father John Misty.

Hart and fellow Hüsker Dü songwriter Bob Mould had perfectly opposing styles. Mould’s songs tended to be bitter while Hart’s were often more optimistic. So, once Hüsker Dü exploded under the weight of the duo’s growing competitiveness, Hart was free to do as he pleased. His first solo effort featured one of the very best songs of that vein ever — Let Go. I got into Hüsker Dü after they had already broken up, so I felt compelled to choose between Mould or Hart. I was always a Hart guy, though I never managed to see him in person before he passed from hepatitis C and liver failure on my mom’s birthday in 2017. I did see Mould, though.

That’s an interesting debate. Maybe even a personality test: Hart vs. Mould, Macca vs. Lennon, Frey vs. Henley, Partridge vs. Moulding, Ray vs. Dave Davies, Simmons vs. Stanley, Kath vs. Cetera, Gilmour vs. Waters, Clapton vs. Beck vs. Page … buty I digress. This is an album review.

Nova Mob’s debut LP, The Last Days Of Pompeii, is a concept album involving Von Braun. The album’s opener Introduction lays it all out — the rocket scientist needing to get out of the crumbling Nazi Germany:

“An intelligent clown name of Werner Von Braun
He was outside escaping one day
And he looked all around and he spat on the ground
And he said, ‘I’ve discovered a way’
In 1944, towards the end of the war
And those with the drive and the will to survive
Wouldn’t fight anymore
Under rust and the busted up concrete, the devil he died
With a shot through the roof of the mouth with some cyanide.”

That’s pretty good imagery, Grant. Truthfully, this is an excellent, excellent record. The concept is steeped in both history and whimsical fantasy. As Hart explained it, Von Braun goes back in time in one of his V2 rockets and goes to Pompeii, where King Pompedible tries to manipulate him just as Hitler had. Vesuvius erupts and Von Braun awakens from the dream, brought upon by truth serum.

There are many standouts on the album, which features two different versions of its most popular track, Admiral Of The Sea. Woton is also a cool track — with Hart really belting it out overtop of a blues beat. This even though the quality of the vocal recording is often purposely poor or affected/effected.

Getaway (Gateway) In Time is among the best songs Hart ever did. The track Wernher Von Braun is a little too similar to stand out, but the next track Space Jazz is a vamp and spoken-word psych-rock gem. The lyrics are brilliant, like this bit combining Apollo 11 with Pride & Prejudice:

“This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind
Man, kind and disinterested in his current wars,
Applauded the accomplishment.”

Then there’s Where You Gonna Land (Next Time You Fall Off Your Mountain), which could have been a Hüsker Dü track — a galloping rocker which begins with the cocking of a gun. That’s followed by yet another contender for Hart’s best song: Over My Head. I swear somebody could make this a hit.

Persuaded as well as Lavender And Grey have such Hüsker Dü-era Grant song titles. But these are followed by the album’s triumphant closer and title track. I loved this song like a drama club girlfriend for years. It’s the best rock song containing the word Herculaneum. The only excuse not to have this record is that it’s quite difficult to find these days, but it is on Spotify.


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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.