Key Tracks: “Echo Boomer” “DET”
The most immediately jarring thing about Fucked Up’s fourth proper full-length is it’s running time. At 44 minutes, it’s barely half the length of their previous album, “David Comes to Life.” It’s only ten songs, and only three are over five minutes. This isn’t to say Fucked Up are taking a backseat after the success of their last album – instead they’re taking a whole new approach. “David Comes to Life” was an unequivocally ambitious rock opera with many characters and four parts. And it was so good that they forced publications like The Chicago Tribune into not only putting a hardcore album in their 2011 “Best Of” lists, but finding ways to blur the name. It did leave the band in an accidental awkward position though – as one of the most unique and unconventional bands in music, they were suddenly mentioned in the same breath as bands like Foo Fighters, who they’d previously spoken out against. So to continue fighting from the inside, they released “Glass Boys” – their attempt at a skewering, conventional rock record.
First off, it doesn’t really work. Asking Fucked Up to release a typical rock record is like asking Charlie Kaufman to direct the next “Transformers” movie – it just isn’t going to be as dumb as it should be. “Glass Boys” is still littered with narratives, references to mythology and dark, convoluted poetry. And furthermore, Fucked Up is a hardcore band at heart. Even if the band has never been as raging as most hardcore bands, Pink Eyes’ vocals are still as throaty and guttural as before. They’re just too ambitious to try to pull off a normal rock record – even if it’s not done seriously. This is the band that’s doing “Year of the…” EP’s in between albums, with 10+ and 20+ minute songs. Fucked Up are too imaginative, and exist in too many genres, to really pull this off.
So what results is a batch of moderately regular songs. On one hand, it’s interesting to hear Fucked Up go back to some traditional hardcore roots, with songs that are easier to wrap your head around. It’s all high energy, still. On the other hand, it does sound like a bit of a failed experiment. The biggest case is on “Warm Change,” where they mimic classic rock by ending with a pointless, meandering guitar solo and a keyboard fade-out. It’s a bit of a parody, sure, but one that doesn’t fit alongside any other song on the album.
But still, if you take the album at a base level and don’t look at it like a certain concept, it’s still a strong hardcore album. “Echo Boomer” is a raging intro to the album, and songs like “Touch Stone,” “Sun Glass” and “DET” are just as loud and abrasive as you’d expect from Fucked Up. And in some ways, their ambition works – the drums and guitars were recorded differently. Jonah Falco recorded four different drum tracks throughout the album, and the guitars are layered and smoothed out to make more of a drone noise than a lead melody. They’ve released a whole alternate version of the album, with half-time drums. Even at their least ambitious, Fucked Up is still incredibly ambitious. So even if this is a grand idea that provides little fruitful, it’s still a solid record from the most inventive band in music. The fact that Fucked Up even thought to make the exact opposite of their previous album shows they’re still at the top of their game.
If you like this, try: Tonally, Fucked Up has always been a tough band to place. Hardcore-inspired rock, built for the indie crowd – there’s no specific audience. So thematically, I recommend two of my favorite albums: Titus Andronicus’ “Local Business,” where the band was similarly finding a way to make a post-magnum opus album, and Queens of the Stone Age’s “Songs For the Deaf,” an earlier attempt at an overly-regular rock album.
-By Andrew McNally