A part of me wants to lose myself in Fucked Up. They’re as much avatars of unbridled intensity as they are musicians. And at their best, Fucked Up sound like sheet metal being thrown out the back of a speeding Hitachi construction truck on a limpid August day: the sun catching the metal as it crashes on the asphalt, tintinnabulating while Moseph Broussard laughs and chortles behind the wheel…
So the question goes: is Fucked Up at their best on Glass Boys? A better question might be “what does Fucked Up sound like at their best?”
We’re talking about a band that’s undergone more than a few permutations, soundwise, over the course of their career. The Chemistry of Common Life (their most easily blissful record, which nabbed them the Polaris Prize in 2009) raised the stakes after their quasi-auspicious debut; David Comes To Life switched things up with a bit of fractured power punk histrionics. And now, on Glass Boys, they’ve switched things up again, albeit in a less startling way.
The songs on Glass Boys are self-contained, with lyrics preferring to hammer home slogans or diatribes in lieu of meta-narrative exploits. The music, too, is self-contained, and represents an instance of Fucked Up experimenting with their sound in a way they haven’t done since Chemistry.
The songs on Glass Boys are alchemical, written out equations of transmutation. The aim is seen in the opening lines of the title track, glass turning into stone, things transforming into things, getting lost in the transformation. The approach is summed up in a lyric from “The Art of Patrons:” “What was sacrosanct / now the sacred is profane.” They’re detonating their career, deflagrating it in a crucible hoping it changes in the fire.
The slower songs, the clearer vocals, the guitar solo on “Warm Change,” the acoustic guitar that opens “Sun Glass,” the piano that ends “Glass Boys:” these are decidedly not Fucked Up.
The Fucked Up of Chemistry have been sublimated into a different band; the Fucked Up of Glass Boys, rising with the sulfur flowers. Whither the sound comes is less clear. Whereas on Chemistry the band was interested in warping the strictures of hardcore punk and on David the group wanted to fracture narrative credibility, Glass Boys is an album of pyrotechnic change, definitely subtle, disappointing perhaps because it doesn’t yield pure gold.
Sure, they haven’t rectified their sound, but in the wake of David, they sure did dulcify it.
Okay, so it starts with what sounds like a xylophone playing craftily spaced out arpeggios. Then, some hyper-precise rock drums are introduced before rolling guitars kick off a pretty straightforward hardcore pop punk tune propelled by tight instrumentation and Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham’s signature trailing-off talk-growl. Opener “Echo Boomer” is structurally anchored by a patient and controlled build up, not so much dynamic as it is predictably evolutionary. It’s an uncannily representative album introduction.
Fucked Up has come a long way since 2008’s still enthralling The Chemistry of Common Life, which—although not Fucked Up’s debut—was when most listeners first heard Fucked Up’s idiosyncratic blend of classic hardcore punk, post-hardcore, and experimental rock. On Chemistry, Fucked Up takes sun-cooked noise experiments and breaks them into pieces that are easily digestible, using hardcore punk and noise rock as mediums through which they artfully explore themes of origins, mortality, death, and transcendence.
On 2011’s ambitious meta-modern opera, David Comes to Life, Fucked Up established somewhat of a niche as an “epic hardcore punk band” with a proclivity for telling Shakespearean stories in which tragic and untimely characters ironically mull on universal themes of mortality and existence. At its best, David is an intriguing and unique commentary on labor inequality, love, anxiety, loss, regret, and resurrection. Sonically, however, it’s a lengthy collection of competent hardcore punk jams which feature spirited guitar playing, driving drums, and dramatic vocal layering. In my opinion, it falls short of a fully actualized “concept album,” and it loses its post-modern appeal as its characters demolish narrative walls as if by mere formulaic necessity, but its spirit makes it a good enough hardcore punk record that calling it a failure would be unnecessarily reductive.
I digress. Fucked Up’s fourth full-length record, Glass Boys, is a comically self-aware hardcore punk record—and Fucked Up’s most Fucked Up-esque and decidedly least fucked up LP. It is exemplary of a once cutting-edge band settling into a confident career groove. This confidence (a trait that Fucked Up has always been known for) keeps Glass Boys from being a complete wash, but it also keeps it from being particularly interesting on its own. Unlike their post-hardcore via noise contemporaries Pissed Jeans, Fucked Up isn’t pushing any boundaries of convention here nor are they redefining profane existence in interesting ways. There are, however, plenty of rapturous—if evanescent—moments here: complexly layered “The Art of Patrons,” stellar (as in shooting star-like) guitar solo on “Warm Change,” that wonderfully impressionistic feedback introduction on aptly-named closer “Glass Boys” that slowly builds into a transcendent barrage of rhythm, noise, and melody—it’s Glass Boys’s best song by a hardcore mile, and unlike most of this record, it actually feels like it earns its stripes.
For as many attractive moments as there are on Glass Boys, however, I can’t help but think that Fucked Up employs all of its unique tricks on every single track here, proverbially shooting themselves in their own feet without surprise or suspense. That’s not to say that it isn’t exciting or propulsive; Glass Boys is notably Fucked Up’s tightest and most consistent record, yet it lacks that inventive spark that made previous releases both cathartic and fascinating.
Glass Boys is out June 2nd on Matador Records.