Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

Fucked Up are not a normal hardcore band. Following up on 2008’s life-changing The Chemistry of Common Life, the Canadian collective fronted by the enigmatic, outspoken giant Pink Eyes have presented us with the most ambitious of concept albums in the form of the 80 minute, 4 act punk opera David Comes To Life. And while you wouldn’t back anyone else to even come close to pulling it off, they do a magnificent job.

The story is essentially a melodramatic tale set in Thatcherite Britain about a lightbulb factory worker named David, who falls in love with an activist called Veronica. Veronica then dies in an accident and David goes on trial. What happens afterwards becomes a complex web of lies, lust and deceit. New characters including Vivian and Octavio are introduced to further complicate matters as David attempts to resolve the circumstances behind Veronica’s death. The album is best enjoyed without knowing the conclusion, so perhaps that should be left for the listener to discover by themselves. As an aside, the band also released a Record Store Day-only ‘compilation’ on vinyl entitled David’s Town, featuring bands from the fictitious British town of Byrdesdale Spa and loosely based on the death of organised labor and rise of modern capitalism. Just when you thought they couldn’t be any more ambitious…

Beginning in typically atypical fashion as only a Fucked Up album could, David Comes To Life announces its presence with Let Her Rest, a droning yet delicate instrumental piece resplendent with pianos and seemingly infinite layers of guitar before the colossal Queen of Hearts, a mountainous punk song which plays off the juxtaposition of Pink Eyes’ furious, wounded bull growl and the delicate backing vocals of Cults frontwoman Madeline Follin. It is here that the title character of David introduces himself and his lover, Veronica. The concise, catchy and brilliant Under My Nose follows, giving the impression of an indie rock band after the singer’s lunch has been stolen and the guitarist’s amplifier is on 11. The hulking lead single The Other Shoe builds around the portentous mantra “We’re dying on the inside” while huge multi-tracked guitars and cavernous drums slowly build up to a cathartic swell near the track’s closure. The driving Turn The Season is effectively an immense power pop song, with David proclaiming “I’ve never been as happy as I am today”. And so ends Act One, a proclamation of David and Veronica’s feelings for each other with dark and foreboding undertones, culminating in Veronica’s death.

Act Two opens with the glistening guitars of Running On Nothing, a magnificent slice of punk which leads into Remember My Name, where David, struggling with depression after his lover’s death, proclaims “The only love that will never die is the love that you always deny”, and “The loss forever stings/The pain will never leave/Love is a cruel disease”. Here Pink Eyes sounds like a bear with a sore head, while musically the band recall the British rock sensibilities of bands like The Who. A Slanted Tone introduces the character of Vivian, who later goes on to reveal some revelatory evidence which throws the circumstances surrounding Veronica’s death into a whole new light, while the surging Serve Me Right darkly suggests that death is brought about by love (‘He killed her with his kiss/I think it serves him right’). Drummer Mr. Jo beats the skins like a madman throughout the track, opening with a rambunctious tribal flourish of the toms and continuing the relentless, blistering pace and intensity throughout.

Act Three sees David question the motives of a new character, Octavio, and his part in Veronica’s death. The act presents us with the court-room confession of Truth I Know, containing the accusatory lines “Sons destroy the world by stealing your little girls/The daughter you’ve loved from birth slumbers beneath the earth”, dripping with primal imagery, before culminating in “But what survives is what’s passed down/I have my legacy and I am proud”. The anthemic stadium rock of Life In Paper is one of the standout moments of the record in stylistic terms, sounding like a cleaner, crisper take on the material from The Chemistry of Common Life, and David confronts Octavio directly (“Dot your I’s and cross your T’s/Build a cage of words and throw away the keys”). ‘Ship Of Fools’ follows, a rollicking, overdriven punk anthem featuring the band’s trademark massive guitar sound and driving percussion. Second single A Little Death sees David decide he is better off without love amidst a mass of punishing power-chord rock.

Act Four commences with I Was There, a revelation from Vivian that she was present at the scene of Veronica’s death. This is one of the better tracks on the record, the crisp, delayed lead guitar lines piercing through the immensely layered bedrock of distorted guitar chords and monumental drums while swirling, psychedelic layers lurk beneath. Inside A Frame sees Octavio reveal his true role in the events, while the excellent The Recursive Girl sees Vivian muse on the nature of life (“Hold the bitter taste in my mouth/I don’t want to forget/Don’t want to spit it out/The pain can only last for so long/A sweetness lingers after it’s gone”). David reveals his sentiments to Veronica during the poignant One More Night (“Now that you’ve gone away/I can finally say that if you were here today/I’d love you the same way”), backed by a powerful, slow-building arrangement and graceful female backing vocals. The ceremonious closer Lights Go Up resolves the story in an interesting and satisfying way, building up to a massive zenith and closing with the line “Love will never die” and the solitary drone which opens the record, suggesting an endless looping cycle just like that of life itself.

Fucked Up have never done anything by halves. Even by their own colossal standards though, David Comes To Life is a daunting prospect. But when the grandiose ideas and sheer ambition are matched with such tight songs, the end result is quite brilliant. Full of catchy punk songs, the record sees the band at their most pop-orientated – perhaps the only criticism of the band’s evolution in sound is that it lacks a bit of the ‘punch in the face’ brutality, confronting subject matter and raw impact of earlier records like Let Likes Be Cured By Likes, Hidden World and The Chemistry Of Common Life.

Nothing here is quite as colossal as Crooked Head, No Epiphany, Crusades or Police, and unfortunately that is a large part of where the band’s appeal lies. Consequentially the ‘replayability’ of this record will probably never be as high as the band’s previous LPs. But as an experience it is amazing, an all-enveloping and sensory package whether in the form of delicate tinkling pianos and elegant female vocal harmonies, or a relentless barrage of guitar and drums paired with Pink Eyes’ fierce snarl. In David Comes To Life, Fucked Up have shot for the stars – any band can do that, but few can actually reach those heights.