Album Review: Fucked Up – ‘Glass Boys’

By rule of thumb, the first bands to achieve crossover success from marginal genres do so by completely compromising their values and/or by consciously altering their sound to suit a mainstream palate. Subsequently, creativity stagnates and identical records are churned out for the next decade. It’s bad enough when indie-rock bands do it, but when the culprits are heroes of their respective Punk scene, the betrayal is particularly egregious.

Among the rare exceptions to this regrettable rule are Canada’s Fucked Up, who’s fourth album Glass Boys (released in June) is every bit as adventurous as anything they’ve recorded to date.

Fucked Up’s biggest asset- aside from having far and away the best, and biggest, frontman in rock and roll today, is their willingness to experiment. From their early days earning their chops cutting straight-up Hardcore Punk 7’s in their local Toronto scene, through their genre bending first two LP’s, Hidden World and The Chemistry of Modern Life, up to 2011’s rock opera David Comes to Life, the band’s experimental flair shines strong.

Hidden World and Chemistry weren’t just minor deviations from the punk rock template; each was a Shape of Punk to Come-level master-class in how to push boundaries and still maintain the spirit and energy that defines Punk. By incorporating slide whistles, choral tracks and seven minute songs, whilst still having more balls and providing more “Fuck yeah, life!” moments than any of their contemporaries, Fucked Up have spent the last decade defiantly spitting in the face of the current generation of “Punk is dead” naysayers and having a damn good time doing it.

Each was a Shape of Punk to Come-level master-class in how to push boundaries and still maintain the spirit and energy that defines Punk.

On this record, though, you really get a sense that the band is trying to break free of the constraints of the genre that spawned them and fully embrace all their artistic influences. Although the essential pulse of the record is still a punk one, the sonic tone of the recording is significantly denser than any of their previous work. The band has always had three guitars but here they have used an optimal effect to build a wall of undulating noise, and Jonah Falco’s four separate drum tracks all work together to hypnotic effect. To coin a clunky phrase- the sort of compound genre terminology Fucked Up fans would most likely detest- it’s almost ‘Dream-Punk’.

The guitar work is generally excellent, at one point even tipping over into a full blown fuzz soaked 70’s solo in Warm Change and thematically and tonally the album is consistently engaging with several moments of genuinely exultant joy, but the band’s current direction also serves to highlight the underlying problem first hinted at in David Comes to Life: namely Pink Eyes himself.

David Abraham has always been the focal point of Fucked Up, his exuberant, manic energy and role as a one-man party has made their live shows legendary maelstroms of sweaty flailing limbs. What’s more, his snarling vocals are perfect for the driving punk of their early releases. The problem, though, is that Fucked Up have diverged from their hardcore roots and it’s hard to appreciate his visceral bark in conjunction with the band’s current output. As much as Abraham’s voice has always blown listeners away, on this record its easy to tire of his vocals a few songs in have to start relying on the rest of the band to maintain interest, which is a real shame because lyrically his work here is fantastic.

As an ageing punk hero with a wife and kid it is apparent from reading the lyrics on Glass Boys that Father Abraham is suffering from a classic case of punk guilt. He has been vocal in the past about his mixed feelings about playing with mega-stadium acts like Foo Fighters, but here he turns his attention to unravelling the whole bundle of contradictions that comes with being a successful punk musician signed to an indie-rock label adored by punk kids and pitchfork acolytes alike.

Glass Boys is his most personal work to date, but this is why it’s often such a shame that his delivery is so one note.

With songs about trying to grow up with one foot in a scene and the other not, still trying to stay true to the ethics you held as a teenager. Not just this, but  about helping create a generation of kids and bands you now feel no connection to and the general anxieties that abound in modern life; Glass Boys is his most personal work to date, but this is why it’s often such a shame that his delivery is so one note.

It’s difficult to understand the majority of what he’s saying which, though potentially advantageous for a less gifted lyricist, is a hindrance given the quality of his personal outpourings and meta-commentary on the current state of punk. Fucked Up shouldn’t be any other way, snarls and barks is what Abraham’s does best, but the occasional line of vocal melody would really lift this record to the next level.  This is not a record with the full frontal aggression of early Fucked Up, yet what we have instead is an enjoyable modern rock album by a band growing into their place at the head of the Art-Punk scene.



Bradley Finney


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