Year of the Snake is not my favorite Fucked Up release because it does strange things outside of my area of like/dislike. It is, however, the album that solidified Fucked Up as one of my favorite bands in my long history of having favorite bands, precisely because they did things on Year of the Snake that a band like them had no business doing–and because I don’t exactly like what they did, I like the album more.
That sounds a little counter-intuitive, but hear me out. To me, punk is the “I don’t care about you” feeling. Punk didn’t start for the audience, it started because some people didn’t care about topping the charts. To top the charts, you gotta have a big audience. To have a big audience, you gotta play by the rules: tone down the rampant elements (I didn’t say eliminate them), bring out the stable parts, be unexpected and exciting in a relatively predictable sense, and do not negate your fanbase unless you’re trading up! Growth as a popular artist must present challenges because alienating the fanbase means no more shows, but growth oftentimes means alienating the fanbase.
Think about Green Day. They played by the rules and traded a small fanbase for a big one. I’d wager that they lost fans along the way, but to sell stadiums and albums, they paid a small price. Metallica did the same thing, albeit less egregiously, in my opinion. Even the Chili Peppers changed a bit between Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It’s a natural part of the industry, and I think that whether or not a given band “sold out” as opposed to “grew as artists” should warrant robust debate.
With a name like “Fucked Up”, though, billing big on arenas doesn’t really seem like an option. They know it, they seem fine with it, and I’m sure that they chose the name on purpose. Instead of selling big, they generate their following and win fans with an awesome blend of punk and “pop sensibility,” which I’ll just call melody in this case. Fucked Up does not record simplistic 3-chord punk, and Year of the Snake continues to prove that point.
This latest release pins Fucked Up at the top of my list without this album being my favorite because it’s a thoroughly punk album and a thoroughly musical album. They strike every balance: intensity, melody, familiarity, unexpectedness, harshness, softness, and should/shouldn’t. Mr. Damian still roars all the way through–no clean vocals over the layered guitars as they kick out the jams–which is what we expect and want from Fucked Up, but then we hear a bunch of flutes and reverberating tribal sounds that move into a weird electronic/ambient thing–no guitars, no drums, no screaming. They shouldn’t incorporate long sections of tribal world ambient gong music, but they did, and I love that they did it without asking me first. And then after that, “Passacaglia” has a big fat U2, “Bullet the Blue Sky” sound. Talk about arena rock. What the hell is going on?
Right on, I say. Fucked Up nails that balance between playing for themselves, exploring different textures, and growing as artists while still making music that sounds good to the ear. I like some things that I don’t like because I respect that the artist didn’t wait for my opinion, and in this case, Fucked Up did just that. That’s punk. They weren’t calculating the cost to their fanbases as they recorded their music. Just like how Refused made The Shape of Punk to Come out of a bunch of elements that aren’t “punk,” just so that they could extend their middle fingers to what punk had become in the 90s, Fucked Up made this unexpected music just to say, “We wanted to do it this way, so we did it this way.” It’s less that the music is punk as much as it is that the band is punk, and Fucked Up funked up puck on this album–I mean they fucked up punk, as well they should.
Thank you, Fucked Up, for something truly unexpected but that is also very beautiful and pleasurable to hear.
Also, I realize that Year of the Snake probably isn’t a proper album, but clocking at around 30 minutes makes it close enough for me, and I’m not gonna dance around the word “album” for 7000 words without just using it.