Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
It’s 2011 and, eleven years after their inception as a Los Angeles influenced hardcore outfit, Toronto’s own Fucked Up have released the best record in their ‘career.’ I say career with an emphasis and quiet smirk on my face because, in contradiction to everything the band claimed to stand for during the barrage of 7″s and split releases in the first five years of their existence, the Matador Records released David Comes To Life is the documented proof that the FU will influence more than a few hardcore kids dancing in a sweaty basement. Arguably the most ambitious undertaking in the collective members’ musical existence, Fucked Up have dropped a time capsule in audiences’s laps. In twenty years, looking back upon the musical landscape at the beginning of this millennium’s second decade, David‘s harrowing, beautiful, and inspiring tale will surely stand as a testament to hard work and ace musicianship.
Inspired by vocalist Pink Eyes (Damian Abraham)’s opus of a tale, in which a cast of characters intermingle and ruminate on lost love, lost life, bitter rivalry, and the power of redemption and revolution, I pause to shift into a second-person perspective and focus on you. What do you normally think of when the term ‘rock opera’ is thrown at you? Surely images of blind, deaf, and dumb children playing pinball commingle with frightening thunderbolts, lightning, and epic space voyages. You start to think of the epic cheese factor, wishing perhaps that the epic operatics would focus on something a little less embarrassing. With David Comes To Life however (from now on abbreviated to DCTL), the six members of Fucked Up have managed to create a Brechtian proletarian tragedy where, opposed to classical traditionalism, multiple viewpoints and convoluted story arcs synthesize to explore a concretized amalgamation of all of their overarching leitmotifs. Ever since the band released their Police EP and split 7″ with Haymaker back in 2002, the band has purposely fucked with their audience. Indulging in varied themes as common as ACAB (all cops are bastards, on the Police 7″) and proletarian revolution (their original live recordings of “Generation/Red” on the Toronto City Omnibus and the two-part Baiting of the Public 7″) to complicated and boundary leveling topics like Nazi mysticism and the occult (a sheet from the liner notes included with the Black Cross 7″ features images of Panzer tanks with Nazi soldiers labeled as “Fans marching to a gig in Toronto Canada), the band has never shied away from exploring all facets of modern music. Where DCTL differs, however, is in its ability to cohesively blend these ideas into a listenable, enjoyable, and non-indulgent experience.
Thanks to the unique marketing campaign Matador has set up for Fucked Up’s latest (a preordering system that staggers digital releases so that fans really are getting the leg up on others waiting to just buy [or download] the album), I have been able to listen closely to the record and pore over its lyrics. At a sprawling 18 tracks in 80 minutes, the record is a goliath of a listen. Elements of the story criss-cross into, out of, over, and across one another, and the tale is a fleshed out continuation of a character initially developed during the recording sessions for 2006’s Hidden World LP. In addition to these eighteen tracks, an unreleased track and 8 songs from four more 7″s (which will be released to those who preordered through Matador) help to explain each of the album’s characters even more fully than they can be realized here. When you take into account that the title character has appeared on 3 albums, more than a handful of EPs, and was the subject of this year’s Record Store Day exclusive David’s Town (a collection of English covers that are supposed to represent David’s hometown of Byrdesdale Spa, UK), calling this project ‘ambitious’ or ‘lofty’ is a hell of an understatement. The remarkable thing here is that they pull it off.
In order to understand this album, you need to have a grasp of the story. Thankfully, the band has made the album accessible enough that acquiring hard to find (and often quite pricey) singles like David Christmas or David’s Plan aren’t necessary. Without giving too much away (as this is a huge part of what makes this album so exciting), David Eliade works a dead-end job in an industrial factory in the United Kingdom. He gets up, he goes to work, he stresses himself out, and comes home miserable. It’s all wash, rinse, repeat until he meets the beautiful Veronica Boisson. A communist revolutionary, the two characters meet outside of his factory as she and her comrades hand out pamphlets to workers. When tragedy strikes and Veronica is killed, David must come to terms with bearing the guilt of his deceased love as he wars with a tricky narrator who may not be all that he seems. The liner notes are designed to read like a stage play and, like an opera, obtuse and fragmentary lyrics are given a reasonable amount of clarity. The point of this tale is not to pan out in an exact measure like a perfectly scripted action film, but rather lingers on the bare essentials of the human condition and allows for its listener to connect the dots. This is something Mr. Abraham has been particularly talented at over the years, alluding to off-key philosophical and literary references in the midst of a pummeling song, but in DCTL he manages to compact his artistic yearning and design a readable and enjoyable narrative.
An interesting narrative is one thing, but it would be nothing without a working sonic blueprint. How, then, does the music in DCTL compare to its ambitious story? In short, think about the most experimental aspects of 2008’s Chemistry of Common Life (songs like “Looking For God,” “Golden Seal,” and the acid inspired “Royal Swan”), add it to the hardest moments of their 2006 classic Hidden World (think of the hardcore templates set by “Two Snakes” and the title track), and add even more of a dreamy, shoegazer influence. Cut the song lengths down from the 8 minute mini-epics included on Hidden World to the 5 minute lengths prominent on Chemistry, and you have a working album that never lets its plethora of ideas overstay their welcome. David‘s repetitious elements, from the warm, thumping guitar dissonance that opens and closes the record, to the inversion of memorable guitar lines in Chemistry (the pleasantly swelling chords featured on “Son The Father” and that album’s title track are used in some shape or form a number of times on DCTL tracks like “Under My Nose”), give off a semblance of ‘been there, done that’ for a brief moment before the listener realizes that themes are connecting.
After the pretty and slightly off-time instrumental opener “Let Her Rest” (a winking nod to Chemistry‘s instrumental interludes), “Queen Of Hearts” charges in with a catchy upper-neck guitar line that, once the drums and bass kick in, shimmers off into a number of guitars sparkling in the fringes of your headphones. The track plays similarly to the “David Comes To Life” track on Hidden World, but instead of that classic’s rumination on death, “Queen” basks in the beauty of newfound love. Acting as a conversation of sorts, vocalist Pink Eyes’ yelp becomes the grizzled chagrin of a down-and-out David, contrasted by the ethereal, lovely voice of Veronica. Mimicking the angelic voices telling Mr. Eliade to ‘wake up’ in 2006, Cults frontwoman Madeline Follin provides the heavenly voice to usher both the protagonist and the listener into a realm outside of Byrdesdale Spa. Guitarists Mike Haliechuk (aka: 10,000 Marbles), Josh Zucker (aka: Gulag), and Ben Cook (aka: Young Governor) trade off on guitar riffs as leads soar high above the mix and almost all is forgotten. Jonah Falco (aka: Mr. Jo)’s drumming is centered and playful, but never showy. And, like always, Sandy Miranda (aka: Mustard Gas) provides an equally playful rhythm that structures all the wonder around her. It’s an exasperating listen, full of highs and lows and indeterminable intricacy, and it’s only the second track. “Under My Nose” briefly plays with the hazy ambush of guitars Chemistry was noted for (an album that reputedly had over well over 30 recorded guitar tracks) before delving into the three-chord assault of their older material. In the best Fucked Up tradition, however, this punk-rooted center is consistently toyed with, having a multitude of guitars lay interesting, reverb and delay driven trinkets overtop. As Abraham tells us, “It’s all worth it!”, we get the feeling that he isn’t only speaking through his character; This is as much about a band getting comfortable in all aspects of their oeuvre as it is with some kid in the UK.
To give this album a play-by-play breakdown simply wouldn’t do it justice. This is an album that needs to be heard, experienced, and loved. From the simultaneously beautiful and haunting chant of “I’m dying on the inside” from album standout “The Other Shoe” to the shiver-inducing vocal play by Cook and Abraham on top of a dance-punk beat in “Turn The Season,” David Comes To Life burrows its way into your skin and truly makes you believe that there is hope. There is hope beyond tragedy, there is hope beyond the pigeonholing of a band to a specific style, and there is a powerful emotional hope that extremely few bands can ever hope to exact on record. This is the most ambitious record of 2011, and perhaps of the entire decade. I believe this will hold true for many years, and that its songs will live on to create even more of a legacy for its members. A bunch of us will remember Ben for his time fronting No Warning, we will remember the jams Jonah pumped out playing in Career Suicide and being Mad Men, but collectively, all six of these incredible musicians will be remembered for putting every ounce of soul into Fucked Up, the best band Toronto has to offer. David is not just an achievement, it is a watershed moment. This is when every band that remotely knows them will stop, put their guitars, drums, bass, and microphone down and collectively curse just as Clapton did the first time he saw Hendrix. This is the best fucking album of 2011.