Fucked Up are a band that has gone from the obscurity of the underground hardcore punk scene into the spotlight of magazines like Vice and NME in a relatively short period of time. Strange, for a band that (as far as I can make out) has never had anything but a raging boner of hate for 'mainstream' fans - guitarist 10,000 Marbles (in Distort fanzine) “whenever we play shows I get that Black Flag vibe, where I'm feeling like I hate the audience and can't really understand what sequence of events brought me onto a stage to play music for whatever bunch of cretins has been assembled. So the more popular you get it seems, less is the ratio of people you respect, to people you wouldn't otherwise give the time of day”. But, I have this theory as to why the sudden popularity: they're really fucking good. The Chemistry of Common Life, the second full length release by Fucked Up, confirms this theory.
Formed in Toronto in 2001, Fucked Up have from the start been a band shrouded in mystery – releasing a steady stream (over 25 in total) of 7” and 12”, to an devoted underground following. Actual information on the band is thin, with Fucked Up having shunned the usual “Myspace and add the shit out of anyone and everyone” route for the path of ambiguity – a Wikipedia page, a blog and a string of interviews in punk and hardcore fanzines, often filled with mistruths and creative shit-talk. Live, the band is known for shows punctuated by nudity, blood streaming from vocalist Pink Eyes, and crowd destruction.
While markedly different from any previous Fucked Up releases, Chemistry strikes me a logical progression from Hidden World – the same driving hardcore, taken even further along the progressive and experimental path. Fucked Up introduce a range of elements not usually associated with underground hardcore– extended synth and piano-heavy intros shift effortlessly into pounding hardcore riffing. Take the first track on the album – the intro is some fuckin' pan flutes, which, without managing to sound contrived, shift to distorted mute-picking before singer Pink Eye's distinctive growl kicks in. This in itself should provide a good indication of the nature of this album – it's as if Poison Idea took too much acid, and spent a week listening to nothing but Television and the Buzzcocks (who am I kidding, Poison Idea probably did this all the fucking time, but whatever). Throughout the album, Mustard Gas and Mr. Jo hold down the rhythm section, with tasteful bass lines flowing over solid drum-beats in support of guitar riffs ranging from traditional three-chord hardcore to the more progressive The pace of Chemistry is overall more restrained than previous releases (especially early 7”s like Police and Litany). In spite of this, the power and urgency is not lost, as evidenced especially by tracks like Black Albino Bones.
Chemistry features a number of collaborations, notably the addition of female vocals from members of New York's Vivian Girls. The use of male/female vocal trade-offs continues on other tracks, and works well in providing contrast to Pink Eyes' pissed-off-and-fuck-the-world voice. Just like previous releases, Chemistry kills both lyrically and thematically, addressing a whole bunch of shit, from religion to chemical process. Best of all are the one liners, including “It's hard enough being born in the first place, who'd would want to be born again?”.
The end result is powerful, progressive and a little-bit-weird hardcore that reveals more of itself on every single listen – layer upon layer makes up The Chemistry of Common Life. Fucked Up are angry, intelligent, and catchy as hell, and the end result is one of the best releases of 2008.