Fucked Up’s rise into our collective consciousnesses in 2009 was unprecedented. The headlines in 2009 after they scooped the Polaris Music Prize put the Toronto band in the spotlight, and also it has to be said, gave merit and a whole lot of publicity to the Polaris gong itself, an award which only started in 2006 and is similar to the Mercury Music Prize in the UK. What was really groundbreaking was the fact that suddenly it was OK for broadsheet newspapers in Canada and abroad to announce Fucked Up’s name in headlines without any asterisks or other kind of censorship, and more than this, it was equally OK for critics of the same publications to give acclaim (although not universal) to the band for making what was on musical terms an equally groundbreaking album for the band.
“No longer were Fucked Up just another hardcore band”
Fucked Up’s Polaris success was fully deserved. The Chemistry of Common Life is a great record, (it made it into my top 20 of the 2000s): it really was packed full of pleasant surprises, with dynamic and atmospheric soundscapes created by a diverse mix of instrumentals and varying song structures. The white-knuckle vocals of Pink Eyes, now better known by his real name Damian Abraham, were still there to remind us that Fucked Up were hardcore to the core, but the crux is that with such an experimental release they were now smashing down sound barriers. No longer were Fucked Up “Just another hardcore band’.
The mushrooming popularity of Fucked Up meant that many new fans who found the band with Chemistry were likely to do the thing that we all do when we find a new favourite band, that being to check out their older stuff, but the problem with that is that most of Fucked Up’s dozens of previous releases have been on short-runs of 7” vinyl. This is where Couple Tracks comes in.
Couple Tracks: Singles 2002-2009 is a double-CD release that does exactly what it say it does, serving up 25 Fucked Up tracks from releases during the band’s first year right up to the here and now. Meanwhile the actual album cover itself sees Fucked Up recreate the artwork from their previous singles compo Epics In Minutes, released in 2004, but now with the additional band members included.
Fittingly, the first track “No Pasaran” is the band’s debut 7”, released in 2002. With it’s intro sound-byte taken from the Spanish civil war movie Land and Freedom you might expect some kind of anti-Franco rallying cry to follow, but honestly, don’t expect to hear this song played at Barcelona FC as a Catalonia or Basque anthem, a fact that the band allude to in the extensive liner notes included with Couple Tracks, “We’ve played this song less than 10 times ever, the last being in Barcelona, where we thought it would be appropriate, but was actually just kind of tacky.” Instead, “No Parasan” is a track that shows the roots of Fucked Up as it flies by at breakneck speed, with plenty of thrash and a statement of ‘They won’t fuck with us much longer’ delivered with those aforementioned white-knuckle vocals.
On an altogether lighter note, and not even attempting to be political, “Teenage Problems (edit)” is a choice track and one one in which the band openly admit to borrowing the beat from The Undertones song “My Perfect Cousin”. It’s the same deal for “Neat Parts”, while the tunes “I Hate Summer” and “Anorak City” are in a similar vein, the latter song being especially John Peel-esque in it’s original form as a song by Another Sunny Day. It wouldn’t be completely ridiculous or too much of a stretch to say that Fucked Up are a bit like this generation’s equivalent to The Undertones. Obviously, Fucked Up have a far more abrasive sound, and a less one-dimensional sound at that, but that’s fitting for the times because singing songs about Mars Bars and PG-rated tales of teenage hijinks wouldn’t cut it when kids these days have access to everything. Bands making music suitable to be played on pre-watershed Top Of The Pops is no longer in the equation, anything goes. (The Undertones predicted as much once with the line “Family entertainment will come to an end”.)
The liner notes are a really nice bonus, and another one I laughed out loud to was the notes for “Toronto FC”. I’m not going to quote it all but even the lead-in line of “Toronto FC is the name of Toronto’s new professional football (“soccer”) team” put a smile on my face. As a Scotsman in Toronto and a newcomer to Canada there’s a lot Canadianism or Americanism I have to grudgingly accept (or even adopt) but I will never use that S word. It’s called football, so bonus points here. The song ain’t bad either, pretty much more of that root hardcore rock n’ roll sound and some nice guitar work to boot.
Elsewhere “Dangerous Fumes” is quite the intoxicating blast. I like to imagine this track being used as part of the work-out material at an ‘aerobic kickboxing’ class – (or whatever it is that all those healthy-looking people in sportswear do in those mirror-filled places known as gym) – the stanza of “breathe in, breathe out” being well-suited to command minions of humans in their hamster-wheels.
Humans in hamster-wheels? Hmm. On that note let’s just cut to the chase – if you bought The Chemistry of Common Life and have been in the market for more Fucked Up tunes then this is your essential go-to record to. And if you’re yet to discover this band then this album serves as a great starting point, because everyone needs to get a little Fucked Up.
© Brian Banks