David Comes To Life
Matador Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/13/2011
As great as the musicians are in Fucked Up, the element that's likely going to grab the most attention is Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham's vocals. Leaving no room for subtlety, Abraham's voice falls into the typical "Cookie Monster" style vocals of many modern-day metal bands, albeit a few octaves higher. This vocal style is obviously off-putting for some, but Fucked Up manage to keep even detractors of such a style engaged by some phenomenal musicianship, mainly from the band's triple-guitar assault of Mike "10,000 Marbles" Haliechuk, Josh "Gulag" Zucker, and Ben "Young Governor" Cook.
The band's 2008 release The Chemistry Of Common Life won Canada's Polaris prize for good reason. Chemistry was a sprawling beauty of an album. The album has obvious roots in hardcore punk, but its ambition careens it off into arty tangents. Chemistry won the hearts of many critics, but sales-wise, their commercial breakthrough would have to wait for their next album.
Enter David Comes To Live. And for a band that was ambitious enough to include a flute in their last album, David ups the stakes for ambitions in almost every sense. In the most blatant example of rock excess, David Comes To Life is a rock opera, consisting of four acts. Like almost all rock operas, the focus of the story is on an alienated teen/early 20-something. But Fuck Up's opus owes far more to Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade than Green Day's American Idiot.
I could explain the plot behind David, but probably the best way to grasp it would be to pour through band interviews. The story begins simple enough with David, a light bulb factory worker, falling in love with Veronica. The two fall in love. The two have plenty of self-destructive tendencies to share between them. Then Veronica dies. David is overcome with guilt. Then…he fights the narrator for control of the story. From thatpoint, you're on your own.
At a brutal 77-minutes, David Comes To Life starts off incredibly strong with almost each song retaining its own distinction. The squalling guitar and piston-like percussion of "Turn The Season" has the makings of a perfect inclusion in almost anyone's running/jogging playlist. "Life In Paper" has the type of chorus that lingers in your ears long after David's journey ends. But the gem of the album lies in "The Other Shoe." On that song, Abraham's lye-like vocals are countered by Jennifer Castle's sweet vocals. "We're dying on the inside / Dying on the inside," Castle lightly sings next to Abraham's sledgehammer-like verse.
If only Castle made a few more appearances. The fact that she only dominates one song only magnifies the impact of "The Other Shoe," but a few more inclusions of her solid vocals could have greatly helped David's second half. For all the band's artistry, Fucked Up is still a hardcore band. And almost 80 minutes of hardcore will begin to wane on even the most dedicated of punk listeners. Toward the end of the album, songs like "One More Night" and "Inside A Frame" begin to fade into the background as their styles have been repeated in the last 12 or so songs. For its build-up, David ends on a fairly anti-climatic note as the closer "Lights Go Up," while still very good, just doesn't stack up with the album's first-half heights.
But therein lies the great thrill of listening to David Comes To Life. Most likely, the second half has just as many great moments as the first half, but its exhaustive length almost guarantees people will miss some parts of songs that merit reexamining. The hugeness of David Comes To Life practically challenges listeners to be patient and even revisit this opus. Fortunately, there's enough great material to merit several more hours of reinvestment.