Just in case you were worrying about whatever happened to David – that bloke Fucked Up first mentioned in their studio debut, Hidden World – the man has been immortalised in their third studio album, which rolls eyes at past efforts of navel-gazing rock-opera.
Damian Abraham’s curdling growl is something of a Fucked Up trademark, edging the tight punk riffs into hardcore territory. This, plus his on-stage penchant for drawing blood from his skull via the medium of inanimate objects, exudes a hint of theatre that has gained them rightful attention in the past. But in David Comes To Life, this 18-tracked, blisteringly paced epic, encroaches upon dramatics of a different kind, with a despairing ode to David. Set during the 1970s in a British industrial town, and told with a rumpus of a soundtrack that roars in the face of subtlety, our compelling protagonist loses his lover, Veronica, in a failed bombing attempt on his work.
Lest the chiming bell guitars of Let Her Rest speak too much of rock opera beginnings, this, and Lights Go Up at the book’s close, are the only tracks even vaguely resembling the structure the album backlashes against.
Spit into four ‘acts’, the first introduces the two lovers’ idealistic ‘together forever’, with Sandy Miranda’s butter-wouldn’t-melt, twee vocals contrasting effectively with Abraham’s bumbling growl and the brash guitar trio.
Between the bulldozing straight-up punk rock, we’re delivered more tuneful vocals and lyrical subtleties this time around. There are clever switches in narrative, from David’s and Veronica’s first person, to the narrator’s pitying, prophetic perspective that watches the sorry tale unfurl from above. Atmospheric power chords playfully spar with Miranda’s soft declaration of “We’re dying on the inside” on The Other Shoe, while Abraham’s narrated soothsaying makes his character, David’s blissful ignorance during Turn The Season seem all the more horrific.
The album cleverly distances itself from subject matter generally associated with punk, Abraham’s lyrics straying from the cocksure into self-depreciative territory; Serve Me Right’s desperate conclusion, “Maybe it’s my fault and I deserve to be upset” is a case in point. Act two diverts its focus onto teaching Fucked Up’s version of Newton’s Law for relationships, with the message ‘what goes up, must come down’.
David Comes To Life is made all the more a dizzying prospect by the track-upon-track homage to revelry and all-out gargantuan riff-mongering, making for a collection of formidable, simply structured punk songs. As David wallows in his mournful mire during act three, Life In Paper’s glorious stadium-esque lead guitar emphasises the anguish all the more aptly, while act four’s Inside A Frame has intelligent staccato riffs that create rhythmic depth.
Fucked Up might still be mixing riffs with a despair for the state of things – this, Pennywise, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and the rest of them would’ve appreciated. But the story of David is so delightfully un-punk that you imagine the sextet laughing at the seriousness with which their predecessors took their craft, in the belief it was really a vessel for permanent political change.
This isn’t a typical punk or hardcore record, but nor is it a typical concept-laden rock opera. Without a doubt, the hooky riffs and unforgiving pace make it a fantastic rock album in itself, but only Fucked Up would chose to play out a tragedy to this soundtrack. Pink Eyes distances his writing in its current state from both hardcore and punk, and David Comes To Life fits perfectly with this attitude. It sticks to the sound they clearly love, but in Abraham’s denouncing of the band’s former proclivity for political comment as ‘juvenile’, they’ve succeeded in creating something both melodic and imaginative.