Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
Tim Miller 18/10/2008
Little is known for certain about the current filthiest-named band on the radar. Here are some facts mixed with fiction. Formed in Toronto seven years ago, the band released some 25 singles before their debut album Hidden World in 2006. They're one of NME's 50 most important bands in music today. They won't get played on Radio 2 with that moniker. They're the best thing to happen to punk in years. Their shows are more akin to riots than gigs, something which seems to be the fault of their fans as much as the band.
Call me a stickler, but whatever you believe to be true about this band, I'd like to attempt to judge them on the music. The information and gossip that had reached me prior to passing comment had, of course, caused some preconceptions about the band - 'punk' is not my thing, for a start - but even at my most liberal, I had not expected 'Son The Father', the album's first track, to be about the best opening song to an album I've heard this year.
If Jet, The Datsuns and The Hives had all joined the same band, and put everything they had into making one piece of music, they might, at some point, have come up with 'Son The Father'. Following a woodland flute melody, an onslaught of feedback from all sides introduces Fucked Up the band, not the hype. Guitars build for a full minute before vocalist Pink Eyes screams into the mic and the song explodes: fuck me, we're away alright.
Full-on, raucous, pumping with adrenaline and energy, this opener is a skull-busting fist to the head, out of control wah-wah pedals and ludicrous amounts of distortion decorating the multiple guitar layers while Pink Eyes snarls over the top. It is no let-up when the chorus, with its memorable line “It's hard enough being born in the first place; who would ever wanna be born again? turns out to mix the assaulting with a singalong hook. The epic opener rages on, switching into different keys almost at will but always retaining the fantastical sense of urgency and energy. The song releases the listener from its grasp after six and a half minutes, which is just as well. It's been some introduction: 'Son The Father' must be an absolute belter at gigs.
The following song 'Magic Word' is equally as heavy and fierce in both aggressive mentality and the barrage of guitars-as-weapons, but is less complicated and allows enough space to classify Pink Eyes's vocals more correctly. A guttural snarl that occasionally approaches a scream, it never strays close to melodramatic or emo; it's a spitting, contemporary voice of the modern punk ethic. The band are schooled in hardcore songwriting, despite their formation in a time when Blink-182 and NOFX were considered decent punk bands, and it's more than evident in the visceral brand of punk Fucked Up are plying.
The chords used in the pounding 'Days of Last' are all but lost in the squalling distortion of myriad guitars and crashing cymbals, but occasionally come together to make the basis of another hardcore offensive. The overkill on effects is so close to strangling the essentials out of the song - and indeed on others - but as an unusual guitar lick in the chorus rears its head above the chaos, you realise it's just that, unashamedly and happily chaotic, sweaty, claustrophobic and very, very loud.
Single 'No Epiphany' is the sort of song Noel Gallagher used to write when Oasis really had bollocks, Definitely Maybe era, with its reverse-effect solos, the guitar hook over the bass-driven chorus. But Noel never had a vocalist whose voice matched his hard words, and that's what makes Fucked Up more than just another punk act. They're trying to revolutionise the accepted notions and ideas, not just become a footnote in the genre.
Despite excelling in excess of noise and attitude, it's not all having cake and eating it. 'Golden Seal' bucks the trend, a (decent) foggy instrumental of guitars and synths echoing like sirens on low batteries; but 'Black Albino Bones' is barely more than standard indie-rock fodder, while 'Crooked Head' goes to replicate the astonishing brilliance of the first track and falls well short. A point worth noting: 'Black Albino Bones' features the vocals of Dallas Green from Alexisonfire, though it would perhaps be unfair to imply that his indie-pop voice is to blame for the weakest song on the album.
But then sonically, Fucked Up aren't afraid to mix things, if you hadn't guessed that by now. 'No Epiphany' has 18 guitar layers: indeed, one interview claims this album took almost a year to produce due to the lead guitarist 10,000 Marbles - a.k.a Mike Haliechuk, the sort of ying to Pink Eyes's yang - incessantly adding more and more guitar parts. Meanwhile, the morose 'Royal Song' employs the soaring vocals of Katie Stelmanis - a Canadian Bat For Lashes - and album closer, the title track, starts with the riff from 'Son The Father' played several times in different keys. It's also, naturally, brutal and majestically skewed, the knock out blow to what's been an 11-round battle.
Stepping into the ring with Fucked Up is no mean feat. It's a heavy, unforgiving cunt of an album, rarely letting the listener pause for breath, yet it demands to be played loud and, most likely, when you're in a bit of a mood. It's a weird chemistry: on the one hand you've the aggressive, violent Fucked Up: the fundamentally hardcore music, borne out in their vicious live shows; on their other, the Fucked Up whose studio offerings radiate an insatiable energy and concentrated determination to make their music mean something to people.
It's like Fight Club and Skins entering the same bar: fighting versus partying, riots versus raves. They might seem extreme opposites, but they are not in reality far apart. Maybe, then, with this second album, Fucked Up do offer a formula for the chemistry of not just common life, but modern life. Perhaps. Whatever you believe to be true about this band, though, know this: Fucked Up are the most important band in punk right now, and their name, their music and their ethic are rites for our times.
Released 13th October 2008