Fucked Up turns 10
Canadian punks grapple with middle age on Glass Boys
In music, there is perhaps nothing sadder than an aging punk. The blindly furious punk anti-heroes of the '80s have all but faded into memory. Those who continue to live out their adolescent frustrations seem to have missed the point entirely. Punk rock was never about flow or form or persistence. It was about disavowal of time, a middle finger to the responsibilities that await those who make it past 30.
Ten years is past the expiration date for any hardcore punk band. But Glass Boys (Matador), the fourth album from Canadian punks Fucked Up, isn't a story of bowing down to old age. It is the acceptance of its own time line, a gradual transition from angry kids bent on sonic destruction to resigned adults who have found peace with realities that are decidedly anti-punk.
One of those realities is the necessity of corporate money, punk rock's ultimate signpost of selling out. While the group is a far cry from soundtracking quaint car commercials, it has won a Polaris Prize, performed on (and subsequently banned from) MTV Canada, and its singer, Damian Abraham, has made multiple appearances on Fox News' "Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld." Guitarist Mike Haliechuk doesn't find any contradictions with the band's corporate exposure. "It's just not negotiable really, if you want to play music and survive off it in 2014, you have your hands in the pot," Haliechuk says. "For us it's just being aware of that, picking your fights where you can, and not trying to pretend that we aren't part of it."
That kind of pragmatism has kept the group from turning into another dusty punk badge on a torn-up jean jacket. Another reality Fucked Up embraces is a distance from stagnant ideologies. Hardcore music is ostensibly founded on perpetual discontent. Unlike the typical punk ethos, Fucked Up seeks to distance itself from any kind of discernible political or philosophical creed. "The only philosophy we've ever had was to just do things that we thought were interesting," Haliechuk says. "It's irresponsible as a band to try and have any other goals, all that you can really control at the end of the day is the finite details of your own life."
Those finite details are the mundane frustrations of a band grappling with the conflicting responsibilities that accompany old age. Abraham, now a father, stresses over those details through the entirety of Glass Boys. He constantly refers to himself as an echo, a distant remnant of his youth. On "Touch Stone," he screams, "You're the source, I'm the echo/Be the new stone, when I let go." Yet his self-consciousness is unwarranted. Fucked Up has never been a band to let go and allow younger faces to replace them.
With every album, the group tries to shake the hardcore label like a bad cold. Whereas the beloved hardcore sound of yesteryear thrived off of raw, acerbic, stripped-down rage, Fucked Up flirts with high-quality production and its latest record even includes a staggering (and questionable) four drum tracks. Its last album, 2011's lauded David Comes to Life, was a bona fide double album rock opera about a light bulb factory worker in love. It's doubtful that "hardcore" and "rock opera" had even been used in the same sentence until that album.
It is unfair to call Fucked Up a hardcore band at this point. Sure, Abraham still screams, but what is he screaming over? Glass Boys features toy pianos, organs, even upbeat choruses. The guitars are loud but they are clean, even inspiring. For the band, growing up and winning fame has entailed a greater responsibility to be a positive voice to its fans. "At the start we tried to be as negative as possible," Haliechuk says. "The Baiting the Public 7-inch was this actual attempt to annoy people who bought it. That kind of stuff got tired after a while. Once you start to get that real people take some meaning from your work into your own life, it sort of becomes you to try and be a positive force in whatever small way."
Fucked Up provides a new vision of what hardcore punk looks like. Instead of staying steeped in juvenile gloom, the band has embraced positivity, navigated around the ugly necessities of being a self-sufficient band in 2014, and above all else, Fucked Up has grown up.