If it isn’t already, sometime in the near future, postmodernism will be as dead as David Foster Wallace. Culture, and indie rock especially, with its increasing self-conscious detachment from reality, has grown stale and has exhausted its ironic pandering. We’ve had too much shitty politics for the last eight years, and we now have an economy that’s not allowing us to take things as lightheartedly as we once did. The same scene that only a few years ago was feeding off its own cud has had it with indulgence. If Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life achieves the impact it should, we will see indie rock return to its original motif: rage.
Until very recently, rage, political disillusionment, and sincere aggression were the dominant themes in a young man’s life. In terms of today’s music world, it’s fitting that the most enraged music we’ve heard since at least the Jesus Lizard and maybe since the Sex Pistols would come from a band that only a few years ago was doing straight hardcore.
Matador wouldn’t have touched Fucked Up if they stuck to the material they produced in Epics in Minutes. 2007’s Hidden World showed that there was far more to the band than many thought they’d ever see. After an 18-minute behemoth single “Year of the Pig,” Matador picked up a band that makes blood a regular stage prop (hardly standard from Pavement’s label). Fucked Up is a band whose singer looks as much like a villain from 300 as D Boon or Dave Thomas, a band that vandalizes its own Wikipedia just to start shit. Now, its the band that may have produced the definitive Angry Young Album of the formerly Me Generation.
To listen to The Chemistry of Common Life after listening to Epics in Minutes is as jarring as — well, I’ll say it — listening to Nevermind after listening to Black Flag’s Damaged. It seems that the indie scene, after splitting off from the punk scene early last decade, can’t quite quit its old tent-mate. From the very first five minutes of the album, you know you’re listening to something special, certainly career defining — and maybe even generation defining.
What’s perhaps most astonishing is how much Chemistry accomplishes in so many different areas. It has the underground anthemic qualities of the early Fugazi EPs and the aggression of classic metal and hardcore (filtered mostly through Pink Eyes’ full-throated singing), all retouched with some experimentalism and electronic leanings just to let you know the band isn’t stuck in the past.
Some are likely to fault the ridiculously dense production — which goes as high as 70 tracks — for eating away at the sound. That’s certainly a factor, but one that ultimately adds to the album’s feeling like an atomic bomb has just hit everything you knew about rock ‘n’ roll of the last 10 years. (Look to the brilliant album cover if you think this band doesn’t have an atomic-bomb-level impact in mind.)
Perhaps this burst of raw, unadulterated, intense rock was necessary. The Chemistry of Common Life is not a technically proficient album despite its epic leanings. Like most albums primarily consisting of anthems, its impact tapers off slightly on repeated listens. But the sheer power of the album is key. This power is behind its production, its songwriting and its mortifying lyrics. It’s a kind of power, both careful yet unfiltered, that everyone’s hoped to accomplish in the George W. era but no one dared to try. And Fucked Up has accomplished it through nothing but free-spiritedness, moxy and intelligence.
It’s easy to forget that most major publications won’t publish this band’s name. But from the looks of it, the members of Fucked Up had it planned all along. They’re the band to bluntly point out how fucked-up common life is. They’re the band to lift people from the clutches of complacency and thinly veiled apathy. Irony is so 2005, dudes and ladies: Rage is the name of the game once again. Long live the new kings.