When At The Drive Inroared into view last year, it felt like the underground was about to reap its just reward. In theDrive-In, it looked like hardcore had
finally found a commercial antidote to all the Blinks and Offsprings who had run away with punk’s good name. It was not to be, of course. AndAt The Drive In imploded in the crossfire of commerce and ethics, righteousness and rocking out.
From their foxhole in DC, punk vets Fugazi must have watched it all with
bemusement. If they were watching at all: like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, you imagineFugazi to inhabit a hermetically-sealed world, where the strutting and fretting of pop fly-by-nights rarely intrudes. They long ago laughed off any notion of mainstream acceptance and carried on their road less travelled, growing more awkward and independent with every step.
It’s funny then, how open, how relaxed, how [I]pop their seventh album
sounds. Punk die-hards wanting repeated blasts from singer Ian Mackaye’s lungs will be disappointed: only the rocking ‘Epic Problem’ does that. Mackaye’s wound down the hollering, channelled his energies into making his guitar stab and soar, and left more words to Guy Picciotto and bassist Joe Lally.
But it’s an astonishingly quiet Mackaye who kicks off the album with the most lyrically plain song Fugazi have ever recorded, ‘Cashout’ – just after a few seconds of untitled Godspeed-like strings and ambient noise, that is.
Even more moving than ‘Cashout’s tale of an eviction, however, is the massive urge to sing along. This time around, Fugazi’s melodies are neither oblique nor buried. Everywhere, bright choruses pop up unexpectedly. The terrific ‘Full Disclosure’ (hollered by Guy in full riot boy mode) even boasts insistent, sunny pop “oohs”.
Elsewhere, there are signs of other visitors:Sonic Youth
, and post-rockersTortoise
, although it’s worth recalling that both were themselves influenced by Fugazi more than a decade ago. And so the latter half of ‘The Argument’s is thoughtful; muted in comparison to Fugazi’s trademark punk gale, but no less passionate.
Ultimately, over their last couple of albums, the idea of what Fugazi should
sound like – angry, angular, righteous, like – has begun to
unravel. And whilst ‘The Argument’ still sounds unmistakably Like Fugazi, it’s the sound of an inspirational band, renewed, at play.