Hidden World: Better Listening to DAVID COMES TO LIFE

After Husker Du’s punk bildungsroman Zen Arcade and the Minutemen’s idiosyncratic road rock record Double Nickels on the Dime both dropped in 1984, the massive punk concept album threatened to become an institution. But few bands along the larger punk spectrum followed suit. And maybe this has saved listeners from an intolerable amount of pretension, but it’s still very cool to hear a band stretch a story across an album, and do it well. With David Comes to Life, Fucked Up have accomplished just that. The album’s songs are aggressive but tuneful, with tight playing, layers upon layers of guitars, and powerful vocals from Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham (a dude possessed of the most commanding voice in indie rock) on every track. David Comes to Life is the work of a band in control of its sound and at the height of its powers.

The album’s storyline follows a young light bulb factory employee named David as he finds love, loses love, and confronts death in early ’80s England. (Beyond that, even the band’s members don’t seem totally clear about what happens.) David Comes to Life is a remarkably consistent record, but not so much a diverse one. The album lacks a musical arc that follows its narrative arc. Most tracks run about four minutes, and feature similar tempos, F’d Up’s signature stacked guitars, even the same themes of alienation and romantic confusion.

At worst, the musical and tonal repetitiveness of David Comes to Life invite fatigue, and the suspicion that Fucked Up is still a singles band at its core. But it’s tough to complain when the individual tracks are so solid. Beyond that, solutions are available. The band went all-out building the world of David Comes to Life, even recording a genre-hopping set of companion songs, David’s Town, in which they adopt the personas of various bands in and around David’s fictional hometown of Byrdesdale, UK.

Much like the fake jingles on The Who Sell Out, which enhance the Who’s first shot at a concept album, the David’s Town tracks enhance David Comes to Life, providing a more panoramic view of David’s world. (Several of them are strikingly good pastiches too, such as the A.C. Newman-sung “Harmony’s Double” or the melancholy jangle pop of “Light Rain”.) Although Fucked Up put out David’s Town and David Comes to Life separately, Town features enough songs in total that they can be interspersed throughout the Life tracklist. This method–best attempted on iTunes, sorry vinyl listeners–has been neither encouraged nor discouraged by the band, but I’ll argue that both albums sound better mixed together than they do during separate listens. The more slight David’s Town tracks are easier to enjoy in context, and David Comes to Life is no longer an album of back-to-back towering guitar epics–it’s an album of towering guitar epics full of playful digressions that create a sense of time and place. Fucked Up have built a world with the David project, and there’s no one right way to explore it–give a windier route a try.

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