When the story of Husker Du ended in 1988, Grant Hart briefly started a solo career, only to put together a new band in 1990 called Nova Mob with two of his Minneapolis friends: Tom Merkl on bass and Michael Crego on drums. The group’s first album was something nobody wanted from Grant Hart in 1991. It was a rock opera with a seemingly bizarre libretto. It was a make believe story with real life characters about the engineer of the Nazi V8 bomb and one of the leaders of the US space program, Wernher Von Braun. In the opera, Von Braun finds himself towards the end of the World War Two on a losing side with a desire to escape. In a prayer to Germanic god Woton, Von Braun asks for an ability to travel in time, which Woton grants through a gateway. Von Braun first travels in future, he learns out about all the space achievements which he would end up contributing in the 50s and 60s. In his adventures, Von Braun runs into the Roman lawyer Pliny.
They both end up traveling back to past to the ancient Rome and city of Pompeii, witnessing the eruption of the Vesuvius on 24 August 79 AD which turns the city and a whole civilization to ashes. Yes, you may think to yourself, pretty wild story. But when it came out in 1991, it made a lot of sense to me. I lived in Yugoslavia at the time and my city saw destruction similar to what happened to Pompeii, although disaster wasn’t natural – it was due to the war. So I could easily work Von Braun into the whole story. I loved the record and I still do, very much!
Of course, as it usually happens in this world, complex work of art doesn’t get a deserved notice. Original “Last Days of Pompeii” saw a shaky distribution through a newly established indie label Rough Trade International. My print of the LP contained bumps, although it otherwise had a pretty good sound. “International” was the part that didn’t work in the name of the label. Distribution was poor and interest for the record was also pretty low. But luckily, Grant Hart decided to reissue the record in 2011, twenty years after it first came out.
So, this review is dedicated to the new reissue, which came out on Cond’or Records, distributed in the USA by MVD Audio. Again, the news about the record was very slow and interest of the audience was poor. I only found about the reissue recently by a chance. Although, it seems quite logical for Grant Hart to make this move, since he’s about to release his second rock opera called “The Argument” based on the Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Perhaps he wanted to prepare the audience for the new complex work, which is being announced these days as a double album.
The reissue of The Last Days of Pompeii is not your average reissue. Ok, it has a few bonuses, which is pretty normal for reissues. But, it is not a remaster, it is in fact an entire re-mix of the original record. Some songs sound radically different than the original tunes. While some songs like “Admiral of The Sea (79 AD)” and “Space Jazz” definitely benefit from the new remixes, two of the songs “Where You Gonna Fall” and “Lavender and Grey” receive makeovers that do not fit entirely. For instance, vocal mix in “Lavender” and guitar distortion on “Where You Gonna Fall”, were better on the original record. Still, the discovering all the new sounds on the record is a great fun if you are familiar with the old mix. To my knowledge, nothing was re-recorded, only original tapes were used in the new mix, although I could be wrong. We should check with Mr. Hart.
The vinyl print of the reissue is very well done. It’s a heavy weight record, with nice and clean grooves, in a nylon inner sleeve (not just paper!), excellent fidelity and it contains a free download. The mastering and printing was done in Cleveland’s Gotta Groove Records, which is clearly being established as one of the best plants for record printing at the moment.
Lastly, the record cover is completely different. It is an abstract collage with a falling tower, roman remains, statues, mountainous landscape and a building that hangs in the air. The original record had a chaotic collage of tiny newspaper clippings, cuts and rips. Both are done by Grant Hart who has several exhibitions of his collage work in galleries over in Minnesota.