My introduction to Fucked Up was through their album The Chemistry of Common Life, and that initial listen was the first time since Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come that I was excited about the direction of punk rock. It’s hard to forget that opening of “Son The Father”, with the faint strains of flute dissolving into a gradual cascade of guitars to form an immense wall of sound, only to be punctured by the howling screech of Damian Abraham. It was then that all hell broke loose, and the assault didn’t let up for the rest of the album. It was amazing to hear hardcore punk escape from the box that it had built around itself over the years–here we had all the aggression and fury of the classics, but with music that didn’t focus on the same drumbeat or the same tired melodies. It was clear Fucked Up wasn’t content with repeating the same old formula, and that’s what made them so exciting.
They reached for the stars with their next album, David Comes To Life, an epic rock opera with a complex and detailed storyline. It scored rave reviews from critics, but personally I never fully connected with the album, simply due to its sheer length. It may speak more to my diminished attention span more than anything, but it’s hard to keep engaged with an album that is going 110 mph for 80 minutes; after an initial giddiness that comes from listening to the first third of the record, songs started to bleed into each other and it became a chore to finish the album. For someone like me who prefers to listen to full albums at a time, this is a problem.
Thankfully, Glass Boys is a leaner machine, and it works to the album’s benefit. “Echo Boomer” begins the album in much the same way that “Son The Father” did, using an initial soft touch before packing a wallop; this time, with the flute replaced by a toy piano before the guitars kick in. There’s a better sense of balance throughout the album as a whole, with a natural ebb and flow in tempo and dynamics. “Sun Glass” opens up with the strumming of a summery acoustic guitar, before it kicks the door down with its call-and-response chorus. “Sacred young, feel the sun, vermillion” are not the usual lyrics to a hardcore song, but it speaks to how the band is deciding how to view their place within the hardcore scene; later on, the line “We all get replaced, retconned and upstaged, life turns a page” states the fear directly. It’s also one of the best lines I’ve heard all year.
The album hits a rough patch in the middle; the songs individually are fine, but when listening in context with the rest of the album and after the rousing opening, they suffer in comparison. However, the album picks up again with the thrilling final three tracks. “Led By Hand” has an intriguing minor-key melody that’s elevated by it’s sing-along background vocals, reminiscent of The Men in the Open Your Heart era. “The Great Divide” ramps the tempo up and it sounds like it’s the most fun the band has had in years. And the title track finishes the album with a blast, keeping the energy up but providing the cathartic resolution that the album needs with each repetition of “Glass Boys”. The album ends as it began, with solo piano, but it captures a more subdued mood (if anything, it reminds me most of the end to Faith No More’s “Epic”–if that’s the inspiration, then it’s the perfect nod to conclude the album).
Glass Boys ends up being the album that fulfills the promise of The Chemistry of Common Life better than David Comes to Life did.* Whereas Refused’s magnum opus showed how punk rock didn’t have to be confined to a specific genre, and could incorporate musical ideas ranging from electronica to jazz, Glass Boys shows that you can have all the intensity of hardcore without being constrained by the same formula time and time again. Yes, Damian Abraham’s gruff bark will be the first thing that gets the neophyte’s attention, as well as the ferocity of the attack from the music. But there is scope and sweep to the album behind it that helps amplify the band’s search for meaning, as they reflect on their place within the music world and their relationship with their audience. It’s a coherent, cohesive statement, and despite the themes of the album, hopefully this is the beginning of a new chapter for Fucked Up.
*I saw this pointed out somewhere on the internet, but it is rather interesting that the artwork of David Comes to Life and Glass Boys seem to have been switched–the statue of David is used for Glass Boys, and two glass light bulbs are used for David Comes to Life (in the shape of a heart (fitting the Queen of Hearts character) or testicles (if held upside-down)). Considering the time in between the albums and the tension within the band during that time period, it would be amazing to find out if this was indeed planned.