REVIEW: Fucked Up Releases Punk Opera, "David Comes To Life"
Concept albums are make-or-break efforts. They can be definitive statements or utter bombs, whether the band in question is The Who, The Decemberists or Mastodon. What every rock opera has in common is a huge sound. On that scale, “David Comes to Life,” the most recent release from Canadian experimental hardcore punk band Fucked Up, exceeds expectations. Despite the lack of a coherent narrative, it may be one of the few convincing punk rock operas ever made.
By the band’s own admission, the story doesn’t make much sense. Introduced in the fist-pumper “Queen of Hearts,” a boy named David meets a girl named Veronica in the factory where they both work. The girl dies shortly thereafter (whether it’s a murder or an accident is never clear), and from there the plot goes further and further into the weeds. Part of what ties the album together are the themes of guilt, love and redemption. But, to be realistic, what really holds everything in place is the guitars.
Instrumentally, there are no miscues. “The Other Shoe” puts vocalist Pink Eyes’ raspy bellowing over guitars that evoke The Replacements' best work. “Ship of Fools” kicks of with a tight, AC/DC-esque riff, escalating into a pummeling chorus. The finale, "Lights Go Up," contains the jangle of Yo La Tengo, a Dinosaur Jr. guitar solo and, of course, Pink Eyes' roar.
To call it “hardcore” is disingenuous. Sure, Pink Eyes sounds like he’s been gargling molten rock the last years, but the band is way beyond the three-chord arrangements of Black Flag and Minor Threat. The musicians have created thoughtful arrangements for each song, layering multiple guitar tracks, repeating motifs throughout the album and sensitively using delay and feedback in ways that recall Built to Spill. In a way, they sound like the E-Street band, if you took the sax, organ and piano and just replaced them with more six-strings.
The themes echo Springsteen, as well. The characters are working class heroes. There’s death, tragedy and religious angst – all of which are common threads of populist punk rock, but rarely explored with sensitivity. It’s hardly an accident that the guitars and lyrics of “David Comes to Life” sound a bit like The Hold Steady on the indispensable indie rock opera “Separation Sunday,” which was packed with post-Catholic storytelling backed by power chords and Led Zeppelin riffs.
Fucked Up’s second full-length album “Chemistry of Common Life,” ripped on religion, but without much subtlety. Even on “David,” they lapse into moments of lyrical awkwardness. But by attempting to fit its ideology into a narrative, Fucked Up has channeled its blind, anti-religious fury into something worth picking apart.
Courtesy of Matador Records: