Monday, June 6, 2011
Album: David Comes to Life
Release Date: 6/7/11
Rating: ******** (8/10)
I don't like rock operas. Not Tommy. Not Zen Arcade. Not even really Ziggy Stardust. I like a lot of the songs on those records but I find the whole opera thing really hard to get past. And Fucked Up's new album, David Comes to Life, is no exception. But that's a personal hangup. And setting personal shit aside, David is an outstanding accomplishment.
The double album, clocking in at 80 minutes, is a proletarian meta-drama that explores themes like the subjectivity of truth and personal redemption in the face of guilt. The title character, David, is a factory worker (perhaps the very same worker imagined by guitarist 10,000 Marbles in his flagrantly Dickensian interview with Stereogum) who falls in love with a woman with whom he plots an insurrection of sorts. Soon after the lovers meet, the woman is killed in an explosion and David takes the blame for her death. However, the listener eventually learns that the originally distant narrator was actually (probably) responsible. The truth comes out and David finds redemption and peace, his belief in love restored.
Fucked Up have reinvented hardcore punk before and here they continue to push the boundaries of the genre. There's no mistaking Damian Abraham's voice for any other style, but just as the Who proved rock could reach the epic level of opera, Fucked Up are here to show the same for punk, more convincingly than anyone else has managed to date. Abraham's roar is couched in a wash of guitar, the sort of shimmering layers of sound that characterized the band's last release. Lead guitar also frequently joins Abraham on the melodies, outlining the tunes his gruff voice implies. It all works.
Moreover, David recalls the Who's Tommy not only in its story and the statement it makes on rock music but even in its sound. Although the layers of guitar could be no one but Fucked Up, some of the scintillating textures and broad open chords have Pete Townshend all over them. Although compositionally the furthest the band has gotten from traditional pop, the album is the band's brightest to date in terms of the chords, keys and melodies.
The lyrics are literate and clever. The story isn't all that clear because the band chooses to focus on the characters' internal battles rather than the plot that links them together. Although the ambiguity of the album can be frustrating, it's actually much better for this decision. After all, the whole story is metaphor and allegory. The moral of the tale seems to be "believe in love and seize the day," which is in itself not all that original, but it works because the band tackles huge subjects en route to this conclusion - truth, justice, religion, class struggle and free will among others. The unreliable narrator is not a new literary device, but it's rare to find a narrator so actively and candidly discussing his role as narrator and his reason for taking on this role - to hide his own guilt.
The band's approach here does have its drawbacks, though. There is some dialog among the characters that comes off as a little trite and the constant couplets are a bit annoying for those looking for the kind of pop-structured ragers of the band's previous releases. The lack of straightforward songs is the most disappointing thing about this album - but then again, the bands songs were never terribly straightforward by conventional standards anyway. The album's best tracks are often its simplest. Anthems "A Slanted Tone" and "Serve Me Right" stand out and the quality of the songs seems to improve as the album carries on - as the band's passion peaks and the story's broader implications come into focus.
David is an ambitious undertaking but Fucked Up has not overreached. Indeed, they've earned this and their execution, while occasionally burdensome, is never indulgent. Fucked Up have approached this project with the same passion and love with which they do everything. And despite the heavy subject matter and daunting length of the record, it rocks as hard as anything the band has done to date. I doubt it will find itself in as frequent rotation in my headphones as the band's more song-oriented releases, but it's a humbling achievement and a vital contribution to punk.
You can hear the whole album for yourself right here.