For a band who seemed like goof-offs in their earliest incarnation, Soul Asylum had a pretty impressive work ethic, and While You Were Out was the second album they released in 1986, arriving not quite 11 months after Made to Be Broken. While You Were Out wasn't the dramatic, creative leap forward that Made to Be Broken represented over their debut, 1984's Say What You Will … Everything Can Happen, but it certainly showed they were headed in the right direction, and it was the strongest of the three long players they cut for the Minneapolis-based Twin/Tone label. For sheer energy, Soul Asylum rarely sounded as sharp and fully engaged as they did on While You Were Out; Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner's guitars were locked in tight and generated an impressive level of firepower that fused melody with crushing attack, and drummer Grant Young and bassist Karl Mueller were at the top of their game, giving the music a strong, roiling bottom end that gave the music a firm foundation while pushing it forward at the same time. The mix doesn't always favor Pirner's lyrics, but his vocals were clearly growing in strength and confidence, confirming his rock star potential, and producer Chris Osgood and engineer Steve Fjelstad may have lacked Bob Mould's name recognition (the Hüsker Dü co-founder was at the controls for Soul Asylum's first two albums), but they gave the recordings a no-nonsense power and clarity that fit them just right. 1988's Hang Time would move Soul Asylum up to a major label and it's arguably the band's finest hour, but in many respects, While You Were Out sounds like a dry run for that triumph -- there's a bit less focus and a little more slop than necessary, but While You Were Out left no doubt that there were few bands in the American underground who could match them.
While You Were Out Review
by Mark Deming