Navel-gazing rarely gets as exciting as the Toronto punks' fourth
Fucked Up’s previous efforts to combine hardcore punk’s throaty rage and progressive rock’s narrative pomp resulted in 2011’s ‘David Comes To Life’, a no-foolin’ rock opera. At the time, the Toronto group hinted it might be their last album, as they didn’t see how they could top it. Three years later, they’re back with fourth studio record ‘Glass Boys’, which they’re keen to stress isn’t another conceptual record. Except… it kind of is.
‘Glass Boys’ is, predominantly, a collection of songs about being in Fucked Up. The self-reflection which has always been part of their outward persona becomes a hall of mirrors here; the feeling isn’t unlike the interludes in Stewart Lee’s recent ‘Comedy Vehicle’ series, in which he and a scornful Chris Morris dissect his craft. It’s navel-gazing, but you could hardly call it whiny – not with Damian Abraham’s trademark bellow front and centre, Jonah Falco’s bootboy drums and the established three-guitar assault.
“I’m the reflection of a dream I had when I was 15,” laments Abraham on opener ‘Echo Boomer’, effectively boiling down the dichotomy between hardcore ideals and rock star fantasies. “It’s a 21st century irony, where everything you hoped for in life fills you with anxiety,” grouses ‘Paper The House’ – essentially C86-style indiepop on steroids. ‘The Art Of Patrons’, on which Fucked Up hint at Pumpkins/Sugar-style 90s alt.heaviness, pre-empts imagined critics with a rare zeal. “We traded our moral high ground so they would sing along,” is but the tip of the iceberg here.
It seems increasingly unlikely that Fucked Up might assuage their punk guilt by playing straight-up punk again. ‘Warm Change’, whose lyrical meditations on the corrupting influence of money are oddly rap-like in their dense wordplay, allows for plump Mellotron and the band’s most unabashedly ’70s rawk solo to date. An insistent, chugging riff and Who-type sunburst guitars power ‘Glass Boys’ the song, thudding the book shut on ‘Glass Boys’ the album. Chiefly, it recalls why their second album, 2008’s ‘The Chemistry Of Common Life’, found such favour, and suggests that – counter to what they seem to think – Fucked Up can remain relevant without the need for continual, exhausting reinvention.