Toronto hardcore band Fucked Up has reached musical success far beyond their expectations, garnering a mass of fans with its experimental, Polaris Prize-winning album, The Chemistry Of Common Life (Matador, 2008), and its following critically-acclaimed rock opera David Comes To Life (2011). However, on this fourth album, Glass Boys, the experimental and art rock facet take a back seat. Returning to their roots, the band progresses forward by finally expressing their members’ inner worries and emotions up front instead of behind a label of imposed “experimentation.”
In an interview, guitarist/lyricist Mike Haliechuk explains, “With hardcore bands, you’re not supposed to do it for more than a couple years. If you’ve done it right, you have a good decade, and then someone else does it. That’s the way it should be.” Although it might seem at first glance like an exaggerated claim, Haliechuk knows his hardcore music history. Hardcore punk bands such as the renowned Husker Du and the more contemporary No Warning both broke up within ten years of their beginnings, and many others fell off the map well before that timespan. With such a haunting worry lurking now that Fucked Up has passed that decade marker, it’s almost inevitable that the album’s lyricists, Haliechuk and vocalist Damian Abraham, wrote Glass Boys with a common theme in mind: the concern of age and selling out.
Splitting the writing on the album evenly, the two artists poured their fears and inner demons into five tracks each. Beginning with Haliechuk’s Echo Boomer, the apt title references Generation Y, whose members include some yuppies-in-training that have grown past youthful idealism and traded in their concert-going and blood-stained punk t-shirts for late nights at the office and a suit and tie. However, rather than dwell on the generation’s jaded mindset, the track expresses an encouraging attitude, considering Haliechuk is a Gen Y-er himself. Abraham’s roaring vocals asserts the child-like wonder towards music that proves to be an essential part of Haliechuck, and thus affirms the prospects of his worth as a guide for the Millennial generation. However, by the titular closing track, the message is a bit cringe-worthy for any musician: “Who did I used to be before I was no one?/Pretend the kids are strange/But it’s me who has changed.” In the end, questioning his own self-worth and ethics, Haliechuck’s view towards his future as a hardcore musician is bleak.
Unlike Haliechuk, who offers the listener a chronological sequence of optimism fading to uncertainty, Abraham has already accepted that his past self would loathe the current one in terms of musical ideals. On Paper The House, Abraham drives home his feelings of remorse for shifting further away from the hardcore genre, while he simultaneously defends himself from the “sell-out” naysayers in explicating the responsibility of supporting of his child. Similarly, on The Great Divide, Abraham criticizes himself for becoming enraptured in the “system” and the effect on his music’s scene.
While the iconic marriage of punk and indie rock heard on previous Fucked Up records still pervades Glass Boys, the band might still be trying to appease their younger selves by returning to the band’s sonic simplicity, as on Hidden World (Jade Tree, 2006). Unlike David Comes To Life, where the listener hears a unified sound comprised of various distorted guitar riffs layered on top of one another, here the guitars are stripped down to the bare instrumental bone (Echo Boom and Sun Glass). Drummer Jonah Falco bears the burden of the album’s remaining complexities, having overdubbed four simultaneous drum tracks for its entirety. Combining the total effect of the various quick, heavy hitting drumbeats with the rhythmic power chord progressions and occasional effect-driven melodies, Fucked Up still manages to awaken the rising spirit of the idealistic inner teenager older fans might have thought long dead, and strengthens those that are just budding. On top of everything, Abraham, just as he has done for the past thirteen years, still growls the vocals in his powerful fiery fervor.
Despite the fact that a couple of tracks, like DET, can feel underwhelming in comparison to the others, this in way no undermines the success of the album. As intended, Glass Boys expresses the entire range of Abraham and Haliechuk’s concerns towards aging, and ultimately leaves the listener with a better understanding and closer relationship with the band. It cannot be denied that this album can’t help but fall short of the previous two records’ effect, given the massive quantity of pioneering moves captured in those albums. Nonetheless, whether or not Fucked Up can see it, they’re still doing the music world some good.