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Fucked Up, ‘David Comes to Life’

SPIN Rating: 9 of 10
Release Date: June 07, 2011
Label: Matador

Toronto’s Fucked Up possess quite a few barriers to entry. There’s the fitting yet unfit-for-print name, for starters. Then there are the band’s chaotic live shows, during which gargantuan frontman Damian Abraham — imagine the Neverending Story‘s Rockbiter, only beardier — often bonks his noggin till it bleeds. Finally, there’s the music itself, a hardcore punk-indebted slurry of grunt-gargling vocals, serrated feedback squalls, and densely packed lyrics that cover everything from police brutality to metaphysical phenomena. It makes for great workout music, provided your workout consists of jogging through a quarry while on mescaline.

The band’s maximalistic approach means that even the most ostensibly straightforward task — writing a collection of songs about love — becomes a huge undertaking, as evidenced by David Comes to Life, Fucked Up’s third studio album and first kinda-sorta musical. An 18-song bildungsroman that runs nearly 80 minutes, David is alarmingly caustic, disarmingly graceful, and loaded with all sorts of unnecessary lyrical twists and fake-outs. It’s one of the most overly complicated hard-rock records of the past ten years. It’s also one of the best.

The tale of a glum factory drone who may or may not have killed his soul mate, David rarely makes a lick of sense; the characters are too thinly drawn, and the escape-hatch plot-reveals too cynically gimmicky, while the story line requires a novella’s worth of liner notes to comprehend (a series of accompanying seven-inches may flesh out the characters, though that feels a bit like a cheat). As a cohesive musical statement, it’s a mess. The only way this thing will play on Broadway is if someone blasts it out of an unmarked van parked in Times Square.

But David‘s core themes — romantic self-defeat, misplaced deification — are so resonant and sturdy that the songs stand on their own. And holy moly, those songs! Fucked Up, or more specifically, founding member and lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk, layer track upon track until they achieve a sort of black-hole density. Haliechuk and fellow guitarist Ben Cook send power chords swooping and soaring like a giant’s scythe; Jonah Falco’s drums kick with rat-a-tat urgency; and Abraham’s roar rises high and rings clear, aided by backing vocalists Jennifer Castle and Madeline Follin of Cults.

That David is so immediately enthralling isn’t exactly a shock; the band’s 2008 breakthrough, The Chemistry of Common Life, revealed a combative crew increasingly at ease with melody. And now, Fucked Up stretches well beyond their get-in-the-pit predecessors, with the album veering off from any semblance of hardcore doctrine, incorporating Unforgettable Fire-style, crystalline guitar wails (“The Other Shoe”) and even touches of art-damaged ’80s indie rock (“A Slanted Tone” sounds like an Athens, Georgia college-basement experiment gone wonderfully awry).

That such moments orbit a nebulously structured narrative doesn’t really matter — a leaner, more logical band wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting; and besides, David‘s epochal enough as it as. For years, numerous hacks — yours truly included — have been tossing around the phrase “post-hardcore” with little care, diluting an already amorphous term by throwing it at any group with speedy time signatures and a few effects pedals. Fucked Up, though, have finally provided a proper definition, with a sound that pushes hardcore out of the VFW halls and basement shows and into the arena. Can’t wait to see how their name looks on the marquee.