Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador)
by Tom Randall
Good record. Good – not great. I’m still trying to work out why.
Fucked Up. The hardcore band with ambitions beyond the myopia typical of the genre. Band members chosen to encourage intra-band conflict. Possessed of an ear for pop and sweet female vocals. A name that would be expected to disqualify it from a mainstream attention, and yet has managed to garner a surprising portion of it (see Damian Abraham’s moonlighting on Fox News, FFS), and is easily the most prominent hardcore band in the mainstream indie world. A name that might suggest nihilism were it not for the obvious technical expertise and definite ambition behind the infinite expanses of shimmering guitars on every track. I love them – for these contradictions, for the bloody racket they create, for their general bald-faced verve.
I wish I could say I enjoy this record more. I listen to it regularly. But I listen to it as much out a need to search for something in the music that has evaded me so far, as out of a genuine need to hear the music. Exactly what is absent, I’m yet to confidently divine.
Punk-rock opera, or something. I have no biases against concept albums; I don’t believe a concept album will inevitably be laden with cock-rock excess.
‘The concept’ is the loose narrative and common characters behind each song; so loose that the band have trouble articulating its arc, or its conclusion (see the oft-referenced band video). Again, I don’t care – I’d prefer its footprint on the music to be light. I don’t really like thinking about what the music is about when I listen to it.
Problem is, I feel its presence weighs on the record anyway. Not because of the pervasiveness of the concept behind it, the weird anarchist love story of a dude named David who meets a girl called Veronica, their plan to commit grand acts of violence in the ecstasy of their love as it blooms in a bleak, industrial miasma that conspires against them, the death of Veronica, David feeling sad, etc.
Instead, it’s as though the concept, translucent as it may be, has nevertheless steered them towards monochrome over the course of a very long record.
Woah, what the? Fucked Up? Monochrome?
Well, sort of. It’s a matter of degree This album just doesn’t pop with the same verve and vitality as their previous work, particularly The Chemistry Of Common Life. It just doesn’t. I’m not sure, but here are my suspicions as to why:
There’s this weird … consistency. Not a sameness, because the tracks don’t sound all the same, but a sense, as each track ticks over, that something is being recycled. A feeling. A theme. A tempo. A guitar sound. The self-conscious push for the hook. This happens all the time in music, and yet rarely has it preyed on my mind as thoroughly as with this album. It’s not because of the two guitar motifs woven through most of the songs (par for the course for Fucked Up). It feels, well, constipated at times. I have to cherry pick a few songs, then switch to another artist. And, I mean, it’s meant to be listened to as an album, right? Because it is a fucking concept album??? (So yeah, it is getting to me.)
It’s not vocalist Damian Abraham that feels obviously ‘consistent’. Yeah, the guy has one speed, but the mania he brings as his voice abrades the immaculate blast of the rhythm section has never felt more necessary than with this album, where they’ve made deliberate strides towards a pop guitar aesthetic. (It’s The Jesus Lizard principle, only both elements, voice and band, are well within the extremes of lunacy and fascistic, channelled brutality established by that band.) To my ear, Damian has been eviscerated in the mix, but I don’t know whether this has actually happened. I want to be imagining Damian breaking stuff over his head and eating glass while tracking his parts. Am I wrong, or is there less of a sense of this?
There are some really catchy songs, and some great riffs that skip and blast with the abandon of David and Veronica as they seek to have their orgasm writ large in the deaths of a large number of people, but it doesn’t come with as much of the free-wheeling sense of surprise as Chemistry or Hidden World did.
If Fucked Up could be said to have a manifesto, it might be that they affirm that a place exists where the merciless and irrefutable message of hardcore punk can anchor sonic and structural excursions that are novel to the genre. Except, not like Sonic Youth, as history has taught us.
And while most of what Fucked Up’s recorded releases shares this, it’s as if the dial on David Comes To Life has been flicked a few too many cents towards the contrived, the art, at least as it’s imagined, then fetishized and strived for. As though Damian’s vocals have been ever so slightly muted to allow the masses of hooks that the guitars are tripping over one another to eject have a chance to spool forth onto the pavement to prove once and for all what a ballsy and progressive pop band these guys are.
I am resisting commenting on each track, or even on any specific tracks. Too many tracks; too subjective. The singles are fantastic; yet that feeling of deliberateness still nags. The march of that riff in ‘The Other Shoe’ feels so composed. That’s not a bad thing – is it? Probably not, but just not what I was expecting. ‘I Was There’ plows with a focus that feels like the exception on the album, as each instrument locks revolves around a four note figure in 6/8 time. ‘Inside A Frame’ has a perky and urgent riff that feels slightly lopsided and is catchy without seeming so desperate for everyone to like it.
Probably the biggest disappointment is ‘Running On Nothing’, which sounds like what I imagine Springsteen to sound like. Bugger, I said I wouldn’t get into the details of specific songs. Oh, and Damian says it’s actually their ‘Who’ song.
So, I’m still at a loss. I keep thinking of the elements that comprise this album – the melodicism, the rage. It’s what Fucked Up trade in. It should be an ideal record for me, and there’s so much of it too.
A good record. Considering the amount of space I have spent on negatives here, that should say something in and of itself.