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Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life

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Artist: Fucked Up

Album: The Chemistry of Common Life

Label: Matador

Review date: Oct. 13, 2008

The last time we heard from Fucked Up, the Toronto “hardcore” act was 18 minutes deep in the prog-rock opus “Year of the Pig.” Folk artist Jennifer Castle cooed a gentle melody over violins, lead screamer Damian Abraham harshed the vibe, and Jonah Falco moved deftly between loping and motorik rhythms. Certainly, the 10-minute “Oi!” riffs of the band’s first full-length, Hidden World, bore little resemblance to Fucked Up’s traditional hardcore ragers (collected on the great Epics In Minutes CD), but beyond Abraham’s vocals, this record bore little resemblance to punk. Like so many other watershed moments in rock before, fans were puzzled, critics were intrigued, and the band gave little clue to what might come next.

So, in that sense, the run-up to, and reception of, The Chemistry of Common Life bears some resemblance to that which preceded Radiohead’s Kid A, albeit on a microscopic scale. Chemistry presents old fans with the same basic dilemma: Ought they pitch the CD out the window in confusion, or hail its brilliant experimentalism? And if the latter, will they praise the music or the emperor’s new clothes?

Moreover, Fucked Up loves to fuck with people. They release myriad, painfully limited 7” EPs to drive record collectors wild. They refer to themselves by absurd nicknames. They mock those offended at their provocative record sleeves for taking them too seriously. In an interview with Maximumrocknroll, they explain that the lyrics to their anthemic fist-pumper “Generation” were written primarily to provoke a roomful of dudes into shouting along to totally meaningless phrases.

These factors make Chemistry particularly difficult to interpret, as listeners must decide whether they hear a practical joke, or an earnest attempt to make music that sounds like nothing else ever recorded. A lot of the time, it sounds like The Who’s Tommy, especially on “No Epiphanies,” with its “ahh ahh” backing vocals, warbled synths, and impossible-to-confirm 18 guitar tracks. Abraham, however, sings in the same tones throughout the record, the same burly shout he once used to encourage basements full of black-shirted kids to scream about hating cops. The disparity between these vocals and every other element on the record never gets easy to process, even on multiple listens. Each song – most of which last between five and 10 minutes – has myriad sections, each layered with a ton of instrumentation and iced with monotone HC vocal parts. In its scale and ambition, Chemistry won’t be topped this year.

One wonders, though, about both its intent and its potential audience. Fucked Up’s tastes, as represented on the two mixtapes they have sold, veers from twee to obscure late ‘70s punk to a genre best described as “wigger mosh.” Chemistry may represent an attempt to marshal these influences into a massive, unified sound. Alternately, it could be the sound of Fucked Up fucking around with a big budget in a studio and seeing who might be duped into believing it genuine. Indeed, who will listen to this record? Will A.C. Newman fans acquire a taste for this kind of vocals? Will hardcore dudes who also happen to like Spiritualized dash to the nearest distributor of Matador Records and snap up this album? It is equally cool and infuriating that Fucked Up don’t seem to care.

By Talya Cooper

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