Fucked Up's brutal sound has won acceptance from diverse crowds. Why?
You wouldn't expect bipartisan consensus over a band named Fucked Up. You also might not expect them to have achieved the status of Serious Critical Respectability. And yet the Canadian sextet won the sought-after Polaris Prize for music and have earned rave reviews from across the cultural spectrum. Their newest album, David Comes to Life, is streaming on NPR's website. And their lead singer—a jolly giant who goes by the name Pink Eyes—served a stint as an occasional Fox News contributor, giving him at least one thing in common with Rick Santorum.
This all for a band whose defining sonic characteristics include the chugging guitars, throat-shredding bellows and blood-boiling rhythms of hardcore punk—not an easy sell for listeners who like to understand what their singers are saying, or for those who have long outgrown teenage angst. The Village Voice’s Tom Breihan remarked that “hardcore records aren’t typically judged on how far they push the genre forward; they’re judged on how completely they inhabit the form." What makes Fucked Up different is the scope of their talent and their irreverence for hardcore's traditional tenets. It also helps that the band members are really charming.
David, released today, delivers 78 minutes of concept-driven churn. With three guitarists allowing them to layer parts intricately, some of the riffs are downright poppy. But the end goal is maximalist. Pink Eyes groans ornate, impressionistic lyrics that recall Bruce Springsteen rather than Black Flag. Coils of beautiful guitar harmonics poking their way from underneath the noise. And then there's the interminable runtime—which doesn't include the David’s Town companion LP, another concept album the band recorded under multiple pseudonyms with multiple singers. Such length is an unmistakable rebuke of hardcore's quicker-is-better ethos.
In other words, this is ambitious, brave material. The album's concept deals with a doomed love affair between a factory worker and a Communist protester in 1970s Britain, against a backdrop of political unrest and declining empire. "Queen of Hearts" kicks off David’s story—the first meeting between star-crossed lovers David and Veronica—with help from singer Madeline Follin of buzzed-about indie pop act Cults. Her haunting voice cuts through the noise, and the stylistic juxtaposition is thrilling.
Moments like "Queen of Hearts" have helped bring the band its success thus far. You can also credit their devastating live act, built around Pink Eyes’ menacing physical recklessness and the band’s robotic, lockstep playing. A 2007 performance famously motivated the audience to trash an MTV studio. There's also a healthy dose of mythology to their appeal: They've risen slowly from the bowels of underground punk with a stream of vinyl singles, all the while enforcing a distinct visual style via their own typeset and logo. Moreover, frontman Pink Eyes (birth name: Damian Abraham) is a likeable guy—forthcoming in interviews, over Twitter, and in concert.
Fucked Up posted the lyrics for the new album on its website before the songs were even available. Read over them, and it'll strike you that it seems like the band should sound much softer. When you strip away with the fictional settings and characters, there’s a sweet message at David’s core: how the injustices of life soften over time, and how important it is to cherish the love in your life. The music often sounds aggressive. But it's both uncompromising and inviting, moving with an undeniable force and grace.