Parquet Courts Have Never Been Fiercer or More Fun Than on Wide Awake!
“Total Football,” the first song on Parquet Courts’ ridiculously good new album Wide Awake!, is a delirious ode to the power of collectivity thinly masquerading as a gameday anthem. It’s not as strange a juxtaposition as it might initially seem: “Here We Go,” the mother of all football chants, began life as a song for striking miners; “Solidarity Forever” shares a melody with some of Tottenham Hotspur’s theme music. Both designed for large, possibly drunken crowds, expressing their will to fight together for a common purpose. Why not sing about sports and the struggle at the same time?
This being Parquet Courts, of course, there are far too many syllables packed into “Total Football” to ever attempt it as a beery singalong. In typically agitated style, the New York punk band barrels through a tune about the power of banding together between strikers and sweepers, poets and teachers, Black Panthers and Beatles, feminist Italian pop singers and dadaist French-Romanian poets. As the song’s punchy power chords stumble to the finish, singer-guitarist Andrew Savage shifts to picket line mode: “Collectivism! And autonomy! Are not mutually exclusive! Those who find discomfort! In your goals of liberation! Will be issued! No apology!” Savage sounds ragged by the time he arrives at the perfect final line, aiming the song directly at a footballer of a different kind, who embodies all the insane values of Parquet Courts’ own home country: alienating professionalism, dynastic rule, the triumph of the dollar. An unthinking Patriot who doesn’t mind getting ahead at the expense of everyone else, and who also happens to be very good friends with our 45th president. Let the world hear it: “And fuck! Tom! Brady!”
This is the most cathartic moment on an album full of them. If you’re an Eagles fan, it might be the most relatable lyric you hear all year. On Wide Awake!, Parquet Courts take the spirit of protest that has always floated near the edges of their music and place it unavoidably at the center. Infusing the taut and verbose rock’n’roll they’re known for with an unexpected dose of rollicking funk, they cast their eyes squarely on American strife. And they do so without losing their sense of humor, turning in 13 songs that are among the fiercest and most fun they’ve ever written.
Wide Awake! follows Human Performance, an album of ballads and mid-tempo numbers that brought Parquet Courts the widest acclaim of their careers, as well as a similarly pitched solo album from Savage. When the band announced that Danger Mouse would man the boards on Wide Awake!, whose recent work includes albums for U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it was easy to wonder whether his maximalism would strip them of their edges. But lead single “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In An Out of Patience” sounded like a hi-fi update on their breakout second album Light Up Gold, suggesting that the super-producer would be using a relatively light touch.
That turned out to be a feint. Though Wide Awake! is clearly a Parquet Courts record, it shows Danger Mouse’s fingerprints as well, with dubby minor-key ambience and a record collector’s grab bag of sonics that are not entirely dissimilar to his strongest work, for artists like Beck and Damon Albarn about a decade ago. “Normalization” takes a brief detour from chugging post-punk into Prodigy-style ‘90s big beat; “Violence” augments its bracing message with haunted house organ and chicken-scratch wah guitar; “Wide Awake,” the wackiest departure, sounds as much like the goofball early work of Danger Mouse’s buddies in RHCP as it does like the J.B.’s or the Meters. By the time a children’s choir joins “Death Will Bring Change,” one of three nocturnal songs led by guitarist Austin Brown, the gesture reads like a self-deprecating joke about the pitfalls of hooking up with a fancy producer, rather than earnest attempt at melodrama. These divergent sounds hang together thanks to a universal emphasis on rhythm, and as a result, drummer Max Savage (Andrew’s younger brother) and bassist Sean Yeaton emerge as newfound stars of the band.
The elder Savage has perhaps the most distinct sensibility in punk rock right now. His vocal presence is another unifying factor, mixing the fast-talking neuroses of his adopted hometown and the windswept sentiment of his Texas upbringing, with an uncommonly vivid ability to render the texture of our media-saturated corporate police state. For self-defense, he frequently adopts the blandly dehumanizing language of landlords, pop-up ads, and middle managers, twisting it against its malevolent owners: “What is an up-and-coming neighborhood, and where is it coming from?,” “You failed to meet the standards of integrity that this organization strives to maintain,” “My name is a warning for the acts you are about to witness / Which contain images that some viewers may find disturbing.”
Wide Awake! is a much angrier record than Human Performance, but it is not without its moments of tenderness, including on the excellent closer with that title, and on the rousing “Freebird II,” which is less parodical than you might expect from its name. (This is the same guy who once crooned lovingly about “the white noise murmur of the AM band / and the last classic rock band’s last solid record,” remember.) For all its eclectic spirit, this album has a straightforward message: the world can be a terrible place, and there’s no better way of surviving it than getting together with other people you care about, whether you’re marching or dancing, listening to Gang of Four and Bad Brains or Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone.