Contrary to common opinion, Fucked Up — and for that matter, all of hardcore punk — is not a scary band for immature, dangerous people. Listen to the first few songs on Couple Tracks and you’ll realize just how sweet and endearing Fucked Up can be (a fact that is instantly obvious in the band’s live shows, in between the bleeding and moshing).
It’s hard not to be charmed by “Teenage Problems,” “Neat Parts,” and “Carried out to Sea,” among the first highlights by Fucked Up once their insane Epics in Minutes days were over. Most of the songs on Couple Tracks are presented here in their cleanest produced forms: that is to say, not underproduced a la Pavement nor overproduced a la Sum 41. In the early aughts, with post-Blink 182 punk taking on a preposterous turn on commercial radio, this was among the best hardcore being produced in North America, underground or otherwise. At first, Fucked Up’s only sin was being from the wrong North American country (a fact I point out only because standout “Toronto F.C.” would be a fan favorite if it were about a sports team anyone gave a crap about).
Not quite a greatest-hits collection, Couple Tracks is something of a post-hardcore Kinks Kronicles, documenting the rise of a fantastic band consistently overshadowed by peers with half the IQ. On the heels of The Chemistry of Common Life, destined to be Fucked Up’s magnum opus, Couple Tracks comes at the perfect time: right as the band has started to convince indie kids, a decade overdue, that hardcore is nothing to be afraid of.
Only a few of these hardcore tracks resemble much you’d see in ’81 (“Looking Back” and “Fixed Race” are the most blatant throwbacks), and in most cases, they’re the weaker, if necessary, inclusions for Couple Tracks. And like just about all comps of this kind, there’s more than a little chaff; you’re probably better off skipping “Mustaa Lunta,” which may be the only two-minute track I’d ever describe as way too long. “Dream Come True” is about as preposterous as Couple Tracks get, with dog-barking, glaring feedback and almost no cohesion whatsoever, but it’s still a fascinating inclusion, even if it’s not particularly good.
Damian Abraham’s vocals are still the star of the show, but the cleanness of Couple Tracks shows how, with the right kind of engineering, Abraham’s behemoth-unleashed singing, rather than alienate non-hardcore kids, ices the cake on an already great band. More than any prior Fucked Up release, Couple Tracks shows just how much of a driving force the guitars of Mike Haliechuk and former frontman/bad boy Josh Zucker are to Fucked Up. The two guitarists are constantly in tune with each other’s brains; rarely does anything in Couple Tracks slow down, but rarely do they stay out of sync (or even out of a major key). Hell, Halichuck will even throw in a guitar solo or two. Fucked Up has the requisite excellent rhythm section, as Sandy Miranda and Jonah Falco never distract, and in some cases (“Bad Violins,” “I Don’t Want To Be Friends With You”) steal the show in what would otherwise be some of the album’s weaker tracks.
When danger does enter, it does so when the songs tackle anything in the larger world (“Generation” and “Black Hat” are about as pissed at the world as it gets). Fucked Up’s polemical streak is less about anything blatant and more in line with Nation of Ulysses’ point of having kids stick together.
Right around the time you hit the “Triumph of Life” you can see when Fucked Up starts breaking away from the same-soundingness of most punk bands and begins to take on the rhythmic maturity that Wire showed on Pink Flag (just with a six-minute song rather than a 90-second song). Like the Ramones, there’s more to be found in this band than three chords and a guttural, as the doo-wop-meets Cure vibe of “Anorak City” is right in line with Joey Ramones’ Ronettes obsession. Finally, tracks like “Magic Kingdom” and “David Christmas” show the gigantic leap in maturity that Fucked Up’s records had always hinted at.
After almost a decade of invisibility, the band was starting to emerge out of the Toronto hardcore underworld and get the attention of some big names, including their current home of Matador Records. That Couple Tracks closes with highlights from the band’s Chemistry of Common Life era is about a happy an ending to a punk comp as you’ll get, and a crucial example of how, for all its ups and downs, ephemeral guitar rock will always have a home in the world of independent rock music.