When Toronto’s biggest and best hardcore band decided to call itself Fucked Up, it was to alienate prospective listeners who probably weren’t going to like its thorny, dense, politically radical music anyway. But neither Fucked Up nor pop culture is what it was when the band started in the early ’00s. Not only did 2008’s The Chemistry Of Common Life make Fucked Up a bona fide critical darling, but the F-word now seems as dangerous as a basket of cuddly Marilyn Manson discs after Cee-Lo Green put it in the title of pop’s most beloved song of the new decade. We now live in a world where a group called Fucked Up really could become a big-time rock band; with David Comes To Life, a breathtaking 18-song, 78-minute magnum opus that’s been germinating for much of the group’s career, it appears even Fucked Up now believes this, and is poised to make it happen.
David Comes To Life is Fucked Up’s most musically accessible album wrapped up in its most fearlessly pretentious and flat-out incomprehensible concept. A self-proclaimed rock opera, David Comes To Life concerns a downtrodden factory worker who meets girl, loses girl, gets accused of killing girl, and careens off on an existential journey into self that explores the meaning (and necessity) of loss and the transformative power of love. (Or something like that.)
Much like the “stories” that form the spine of The Who’s Quadrophenia, Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, and Green Day’s American Idiot—all spiritual godfathers of David Comes To Life—the specifics of the concept matter less than the grandly rendered musical broad strokes and plainly stated big questions about identity and the means to achieve self-empowerment. For Fucked Up, the story of David Comes To Life is merely a meaty hook on which to hang a series of rousing rock songs, like the pile-driving “Remember My Name,” the lovestruck “Queen Of Hearts” (which boasts the most hypnotic psych-rock outro this side of Deerhunter), and “Ship Of Fools,” a spiteful growl that culminates with a guitar solo that can be credibly likened to U2.
It’s true—what was once a punk band has turned into a monster of arena rock. Damian Abraham still howls with the blood-covered intensity of Fucked Up’s basement-show days, hoarsely spitting out doubts about the limits of political activism on “Running On Nothing.” But sonic architect Mike Haliechuk now parcels out the music in compact, melodic, rage-filled sledgehammer bursts that typically last about four minutes—perfect for radio stations that refer to the band as “F-ed Up.” For a highfalutin concept record, the component parts of David Comes To Life are downright catchy. They’re also bracingly potent and screamingly vital; David Comes To Life is the work of a band openly aspiring to be great, and pulling it off.