Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Music Review)
It seems that there’s always one band to take up mantle as the potential savior of punk rock. Of course, they rarely seem to impact as much as expected: Where are all the bands inspired by The Refused or The New Bomb Turks? Regardless of their future legacy, though, Fucked Up has stepped into this role with the perfect approach for today’s music scene. From the radio-unfriendly name to the literate lyrics, this is legitimate punk for hipsters. The style works perfectly for people who might not normally listen to such hard music, as well: Vocalist Pink Eye just shouts the words in his throaty voice with a constant high energy level that could be almost a parody of punk. It can sound like noise at first, but after reading through the lyrics once, it sticks in the mind easily and the listener is inducted into the secret club of those who understand Fucked Up.
The band has a flair for the dramatic, and their experiments push the boundaries of what one would expect from their straightforward punk sound. Even knowing this, I don’t think anyone expected their 2011 release to be a rock opera. Over the course of 78 minutes, their character David falls in love, falls out of love, despairs, rails against the very concept of love, and then finally learns to open himself and accept pain as part of living life fully. David Comes To Life is possibly the most ambitious album of the year.
Most rock operas are confusing, showing the artistic overreach of classic and prog rock bands. This happens at times here, because Fucked Up is certainly capable of following their muse into strange territory. However, they are also grounded by a solid punk foundation, so quite a bit of the story is based on simple descriptions of emotions and events. The interplay between these two aspects of the band gives David an unpredictable feel, with every line like “He’s a ship on the sea, setting sail to perfidy” balanced by a catchy, heartfelt declaration like “Maybe it was my fault and I deserve to be upset, maybe the price of being wrong is a lifetime of regret.”
The first half of the album focuses especially on the literal story of a relationship and its aftermath. It’s so centered on the emotional rewards and costs that the plot specifics are barely given; The characters meet with a simple “hello, my name is David, your name is Veronica, let’s be together, let’s fall in love”, and the troubles begin two songs later with a perfunctory “right on time, here’s the other shoe”. It’s not a satisfying story, but the emotions, good and bad, come through with a clarity that few concept albums have ever conveyed.
As the story continues, it becomes more abstract and even metafictional. David’s anger leads to him directly confronting the narrator of the story, and the band seems to consider their own culpability in creating unhappy characters, but not before literally defeating David in battle. David is accused of murdering Veronica by people who sometimes seem completely literal, but other times imply that the actual crime was one of forgetfulness. Being only a character in a story, Veronica can’t survive if David blocks out her memory. These conceits are still peppered with a believable portrayal of emotions, though, and while I’d be hard-pressed to explain the details of the plot, David’s eventual healing and maturity feels like it was legitimately earned.
David Comes To Life is occasionally guilty of the ambitious failures that plague all rock operas, but it’s an impressive work overall. Fucked Up certainly put everything they could into it, too, with their lyrically dense songs filling up a CD to capacity. (As if that’s not enough, the liner notes include two additional poems, one providing an in-story introduction to go with the opening instrumental, and the other a tongue-in-cheek greeting to the fans.) However, it does fall short of the high bar set by the band’s last full-length, The Chemistry of Common Life. The focus on story and lyrics means that, despite the quantity, there is a lot less musical variety than an album of standalone tracks would have. And given that fans expect a high level of meaning out of all Fucked Up songs, the ongoing story is in some ways less dense in meaning than Chemistry was. Here, several songs might run together to say a single thing, rather than providing something new every few minutes.
There is no reason to complain too much about the flaws in this album, though. Fucked Up continues its reign as the Great Hope of Punk, giving their all for a work whose ambition only slightly outpaces its accomplishments.