The second record from Toronto's hardcore wunderkinds is a dense, orchestral effort containing an expansive epic about the mysteries of birth, death, and the origins of life. Merging elements of hardcore songwriting with up to 70 tracks of guitars, organs, winds, and vocals, the songs are iconoclastic and startling, with Pink Eyes' growling vocals front and center. Though Fucked Up remain punks at heart, if quixotically diverse ones, they have created a great, weird, heavy record that stubbornly sticks in your brain and your heart.
Review by Jason Lymangrover
It seems that Fucked Up's primary purpose in their massive pile of releases has been to push boundaries. Thus their name. Doing away with any preconceived notions of what a hardcore album by a volatile live act should be, their second Matador release, The Chemistry of Common Life, is a lush, expansive masterpiece that dismisses the theory that punkers have to follow a concrete formula of short and fast songs with raw-edged production. Here, tracks are layered meticulously by Mike Haliechuk — the Kevin Shields/Billy Corgan sonic mastermind and guitarist of the group — who teamed up with their usual producer, Jon Drew, to lay down nearly 70 tracks per song. Reportedly, the band recorded bare-boned versions before going on tour for a few months, and after writing a surplus of extra parts on the road, Haliechuk returned to add dozens of guitars to each song. This technique resulted in a massively thick shoegaze feel, with billowing washes of distortion waves crashing down behind Pink Eyes, who effortlessly, but violently delivers his patented Cookie Monster growl over top. It's a unique mash of styles, and iconoclastic as always. Of course, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has followed their haphazard career. Year of the Pig poo-pooed directness by including a song that was 18 minutes long, a three-minute drum solo was featured in Looking for Gold, Baiting the Public spread a single song over two sides of a record, making it impossible to hear seamlessly, and Hidden World went the distinctly unpunk orchestral route by incorporating strings from Arcade Fire's Owen Pallett. From the opening piccolo solo, it's obvious that Chemistry of Common Life follows the same anti-formula.
The Chemistry of Common Life
Combined Rating: 73%
David: They call it “teenage rebellion” for a reason. The local news suspects teenagers to be the responsible parties behind acts of wanton destruction of property and decidedly non-artistic vandalism for a reason. The ageist arbiters of culture would have us believe that the kids know something others forgot, but let’s be honest: young people also suck. I mean, I’m 22 and thus still “young” myself, but I’ve got more than enough crust on my soul to raise an eyebrow of disbelief every time the latest bug-your-parents band somehow manages to muster credibility from “serious” rock critics. But the truth, ephebophobic though it may be, is that there are certain empty rebellions you’re supposed to outgrow, you know, before looking at shit that really matters.
Clayton: (Glowers at David, saying nothing in response)
David: Well, speaking of crust, let’s look at the subject at hand—Fucked Up. Wikipedia says they’re a hardcore punk band. But this album’s production is too full (since when can you hear the individual toms this clearly on a hardcore record?), not to mention the synthesizers and horns that aren’t just squealing, to fully be American Hardcore (or Torontonian, whatever). Fucked Up are a hardcore band like Blood Brothers were a hardcore band: they’re going to appeal to far more hipsters than, say, Agnostic Front. Also like the Blood Brothers, Fucked Up’s best riffs suffer from godawful lyrics and painful screaming where singing just might work better.
Clayton: Anger is the right of all sentient things. Full-bodied seething dark-hot fury! Pack this physicality into music, chunked out in burning infinite riffs and howls. Like owls and dogs and like all other humans, Fucked Up are animals: bleeding blubbery howler Pink Eyes has back hair like a motherfucker. And fuck it, so do I! I am a beast! Fuck you, Dad! Goddammit!
(CLAYTON stalks away)
David: Um. It’s not even the lyrics that really stick out like a sore thumb, though, but the fact that Damian Abraham shrieks them out like a teenager asking for a curfew extension. “Black Albino Bones,” one of the few moments of respite from this kind of ape-like gravelly grunting, provides a glimpse at just how much stronger Fucked Up could be if they dropped the rebellion schtick. There’s some talent behind these songs; there isn’t a single instrumental dud on The Chemistry of Common Life. But while the instrumentals leave room for some kind of epic lyrics from the right lyricist and singer, Abraham is neither of those things. This isn’t to say that there is no value to lyrics that are screamed, because a great act like Hüsker Dü or the Boredoms can get away with such ear-shattering vocals to make a point. But every line Abraham delivers is trying so hard to be epic that it ends up being overwhelming, and then numbing. By the end of the record it’s too tiring to be taken seriously at all.
(CLAYTON comes back out)
Clayton: What the fuck are lyrics.
Clayton: You said something about lyrics. What the fuck are lyrics.
David: I mean. Like, words?
Clayton: No, you fucking idiot. What are lyrics. Why are they. I mean, what the fuck! This is about the collision of physical things. What is the universe made out of?
Clayton: No! Violence! Meteors pummeling through outerspace, antelope spleen hanging from a lion’s tooth, great plagues and wars, hardcore pornography, molecules spinning and colliding and reforming and never existing. Music that doesn’t facilitate the destruction of the flesh is a lie, a sort of Satan to the God that is hardcore, that is violence. Fucked Up makes violence out of guitars. At a show in Chinatown in Chicago everyone started fighting halfway through: not moshing, fighting. I vomited tea-wrapped duck and Jim Beam outside; my stomach acid was beautiful like that plastic bag floating in the wind in American Beauty. Don’t look, David. See.
David: Hey, I see. I kinda like The Chemistry of Common Life! It’s punk with an epic streak. It’s cute. The lyrics do manage to evoke Fugazi in that political-as-personal way, but they also force me to re-examine just how cringe-worthy it is to hear some angry puds screaming, “Merchandise / It keeps us in line.” Similarly, most of the lyrics here are comprised of the stock “smash that system!” clichés that were old back when Blood Brothers did it, old when Refused did it, and certainly ancient now that Fucked Up do it. Besides, I’m not sure that tearing apart the bathroom at MTV is necessarily the most politically or socially relevant statement one can make in today’s world.
Clayton: They played for twelve hours once.
Clayton: Straight. They played for twelve hours straight once.
David: That’s…a long time. But it’s an appropriate coincidence that searching “Fucked Up” in my music library also pulls up For All The Fucked Up Children Of This Earth We Give You Spacemen 3, the collection of early demos recorded when Pete Kember and Jason Pierce, the head Spacemen, were still teenagers. Here’s another kind of young response to the world: poetic meditations on drugs, relationships, and the world crashing around you. Fucked Up are adults, but their lyrics possess a defiantly youthful energy in response to all the wrongs of the world. Unfortunately, such a response is also both naïve on paper and aurally excruciating when delivered in Daniel Abraham’s perpetually-at-11 growl. Josh Zucker’s whinier-than-Blood Brothers screech only serves to further aggravate and agitate, but never to invigorate.
Clayton: These throbbing beams of angry sound are the work of the one true God. That they then contain such multitudes of emotion within them is above your petty elitist complaints. You don’t get hardcore, Dave. You’re too stupid. These guitars are weeping, bleeding, joyful, alone, together, again…now. Here. We are all the same thing in a mosh pit. And you can suck my hairy animal balls if you don’t like it.
David: That’s not very mature, Clay. And I don’t get why this has to be a personal thing. I just think for all the talk of this band pushing hardcore’s boundaries we might be toying with something that ought to remain inelastic. Besides, what are you so pissed off about?
Clayton: I’m 24. It’s way, way worse than 17.
Clayton Purdom & David Abravanel
27 October 2008