Fucked Up scale new concept heights, eye closure

High wired act
By REYAN ALI  |  June 24, 2011

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COMING TO LIFE OR DEATH “I wouldn’t be surprised if this was my last full LP with the band,” says Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham (in hat). 

Fucked Up have always relished the idea of screwing with people's heads. Case in point: when Deranged Records issued 2002's "No Pasaran," the first of dozens of 7-inch records by the Toronto band, several indie distribution houses initially refused to stock it. They considered it, in Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham's words, "a waste of vinyl." The rejection wasn't a knock on the quality of the music but rather the quantity, since "No Pasaran" housed only two tracks totaling about five-and-a-half minutes.

This being Fucked Up and all, the minimalism was purposeful, and the threat of not having their stuff sold didn't stop them from taking on more experiments. "Baiting the Public" (2003) broke one song up over two sides of the same 7-inch. Looking for Gold (2004) was a 12-inch that included a 16-minute song on one side and an extended drum solo and whistling on the other. As the band's profile rose, their ideas became more farfetched and ambitious. Members adopted pseudonyms like Pink Eyes and Mustard Gas. They orchestrated the ambitious Year of series, corresponding a record to the year of the Chinese zodiac calendar it was released in. They played a 12-hour-long set in New York City. In their most outlandish move, they made a cover of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" featuring, among others, Andrew W.K., GZA, and David Cross.

Their latest feat is a four-act, 18-track concept record called David Comes to Life (Matador), an idea that they've been batting around for years (2006's Hidden World has a song called "David Comes to Life"). "We just kept talking about it until the joke became serious," says Abraham by phone. The album's protagonist is David Eliade, a light bulb factory worker who leads a dreary industrial life in '80s Thatcherite England. He's briefly given a measure of hope when he falls in love with one Veronica Boisson, but when Veronica's existence is snuffed, drama unfolds (with other characters joining in) and David gets all super-existential. The score itself is what you should expect of Fucked Up at this point: strains of the venomous hardcore they started with seeping through shimmering, vaguely folky indie rock. Abraham still sounds the same, though, bellowing and shredding like a man possessed. David is a well-put-together piece of work — textured enough to be entertaining even if you don't know a thing about the story.

After the effusive praise Fucked Up received for 2008's The Chemistry of Common Life (including the coveted Canadian Polaris Prize), Abraham felt a rock opera was the only direction they had left. The plot came together long after the music was written, but Abraham has poured some thought into the concept, enthusiastically discussing how it's about "finding God in a godless world." What the vocalist specifically enjoys about the concept record itself is its continuity — a tradition he sees in other punk concept records like Sham 69's That's Life, NOFX's The Decline, and Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come.

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