- Matador Records
By Adam Theisen, Summer Senior Arts Editor
Published June 4, 2014
Hardcore punk bands don’t even dream of the success that Fucked Up has had. Most groups from this genre tend to put out a couple cassette or vinyl singles to little fanfare before breaking up within a few years. Fucked Up, though? David Comes to Life, its last album, was critical adored and had sales that, while very modest by pop standards, are practically unheard of for relentlessly uncommercial artists. (I mean, just by choosing a band name like Fucked Up, you’re declaring that you’re never going to be sold at a big-box chain store.) Thanks to that album, there is now real anticipation for Glass Boys, the band’s latest release, and real expectations that the band has to fulfill.
The result, while still a satisfying album, is unfortunately a step back from its previous effort. David Comes to Life, being as ambitious and lengthy as it was, would’ve been near-impossible to top, but it’s disappointing that Fucked Up doesn’t really seem to try. The lofty rock opera ideal is tossed aside (not that anyone really understood David’s story anyway), and a half-hour is chopped off the running time. We’re left, then, with what on its own is a powerful punk record made by incredible musicians, but in context feels like a retrenchment, a comedown from the soaring highs of last album.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first, though. Fucked Up is probably the best hardcore punk band currently around. Vocalist Damian Abraham “sings” like a gorilla pacing back and forth in a cage — snarly and primal but kept from running wild by the music. The band as a whole has the energy to level a building, but the songs are tightly structured, meaning they sound more like a demolition crew than an earthquake. Tracks like “Sun Glass” are frighteningly loud but shake with a very precise rage, so there’s no wasted energy.
In the end, Abraham’s commanding voice is going to make or break the record for each listener. He’s impossible to tune out because he’s always turned up so loud in the mix. On songs like “DET” and “The Great Divide” he toughens up the already meaty swagger of the testosterone-heavy guitars, roughly screaming incomprehensible words. If you like hardcore-punk singers in all their throaty ugliness — and you probably do if you’re listening to this album — you’ll love Abraham’s dominating presence. However, all the focus of him means that there’s no room for what was one of David Comes to Life’s greatest strengths: the female guest vocalists. Last time around, the best songs were elevated by the pretty airiness of Madeline Follin and Jennifer Castle, whose voices were the perfect foil to Abraham’s masculine growls. Now, without them, tracks with more traditional rock-song structures such as “Paper the House” feel like they’re missing something, which contributes to the feeling that Glass Boys is a step back.
Hardcore punk is typically a very limiting genre. Its only-the-basics intentions means bands usually have to either keep playing the same chords on every song or move away to more adventurous genres. What made Fucked Up one of the brightest stars on the punk circuit was that it was ambitious and inventive while still being able to stay true to its roots. There are moments of that same experimentation on Glass Boys — a guitar solo and an organ on “Warm Change,” for example — but you can start to feel the limitations of what Fucked Up might be able to do. The extremely high energy and incredible musicianship means that there’s never a dull moment, and Glass Boys is certainly worth your interest and attention. But, there’s a certain hardheaded resolve to what Fucked Up is doing in its desire to stick with pure hardcore punk music. There’s nothing wrong with returning back to where you’re from, but you have to show that you’ve grown up.