Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come

sinemacula2.jpgWhen I was about 16, music had to be one of two things to catch my ear: screaming, or jazz. My tastes have expanded quite a bit since then, but I still love both of those categories. Refused‘s The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts has, for me, been a perfect album for so long because this is, essentially, vicious, screaming, jazz.

The first album I heard by them was called Songs to Fan the Flame of Discontent, and it was maybe the second or third hardcore album my older brother played for me when I wanted to get into this loud shit exploding from his bedroom. It was a hardcore primer. But there really isn’t anything like Shape of Punk to Come.

Refused was five mostly skinny Swedish guys who dressed well and liked loud music and politics. They broke up because they could not reconcile their surging popularity with their anarchic leanings. I’m not making that up. The album is heavily political, and fairly sophisticated, especially for a punk album in 1998. The basic message? There’s no excuse for abandoning your ideals–not for fame, or money, or anything else. Specifically, it’s a critique of the current state of punk music, in which bands like Green Day and Blink-182 were sending up 15 tracks of 3 chord pop-punk with songs about girls, and masturbation. Same as R.E.M. And Duran Duran. And, if punk is supposed to represent something, if it’s to be the “sound of the revolution”, so to speak, then it needs to be different from everything else. That’s what The Shape of Punk to Come set out to accomplish, and even though it didn’t start the revolution, on its own, the final Refused album met every one of its own demands.

The first track, “Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull”, sounds like a send-up from a previous album. It shows what Refused was capable of, and what they were leaving behind. Starting on track 2, “Liberation Frequency”, they start on new ground. The track starts with a lean, slicing guitar hook, which is picked up by a second guitar arpeggiating the chords of the first. The vocals come in falsetto, then switching to a natural singing ranging, and growing in intensity, before the song explodes into thunder and screaming.

When everything settles down and the track ends, we hear “There’s more coming, we’re gonna get sort’ve a session going here. A session, a session that will feature the rhythm section.” The third song, “Deadly Rhythm”, starts with more thunder, but this time is backed by upright bass and what sounds like a faint clarinet. Now, plucking an upright bass doesn’t make for jazz, but Refused isn’t trying to sound “classy”. They’re trying to sound new. The bass pulses underneath dissonant guitars, and soon a rapid-fire snare.

My favorite track on here is the fourth, “Summerholidays Vs. Punkroutine”, which has an absurd, off-kilter rhythm for a punk song. It also contains, perhaps, the essense of the album’s purpose, and an excellent personal statement:

I’m tired of losing myself in some
Stupid childhood dream of what I could’ve been
Money proves the point and I’m stuck between
Summer holidays and punk routine

I shoot off a 100 things to remain
More sorry than safe you see
I only get this chance once
and I just can’t let it be.

And I’m still certain that what motivates me
Is more important than any piece of paper could be
Well adjusted and corrupt
All those icons that stole our teenage lust

A scenario of simplicity, a scenario of you and me (x2)

(Chorus)
Rather be forgotten than remembered for givin’ in! (x4)

We’re all tired of dying
So sick of not trying
Scared that we might fail
We’ll accomplish nothing!
(x2)

Not even failure.
Not even failure.
Not even failure
Not even failure.

Rather be forgotten than remembered for givin’ in!
Rather be forgotten than remembered for givin’ in!

 

For whatever it’s worth, the albums reviewed here do not reflect the order in which I buy an them. I buy a lot of music, and it takes me some time to get around to some albums, and other albums it takes me a while to fully grasp once I’ve listened to them.

Andrew Bird writes dense, layered pop music, plays a mean violin, and is one of the best whistlers I’ve ever heard. I also have a suspicion that he’s a gypsy. While Armchair Apocrypha doesn’t quite meet the heights of Bird’s latest album, it’s an excellent, excellent album of orchestrated pop mastery. “Fiery Bowl” is an outstanding opener, and “Plasticities” is one of my new favorite Bird tracks. Andrew Bird has become as reliable as anyone I can think of in turning out good albums.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah‘s sophomore effort, Some Loud Thunder is so radically different from their first that it’s not worth the effort to compare them. It’s compressed and distorted and overdubbed all over the place. The first track might be really good, but it’s so warped it’s tough to discern. “Emily Jean Stock” and “Yankee Go Home” are superb songs. “Satan Said Dance” is alright, though I don’t care for it as much as everyone else seems to, but “Underwater (You and Me)”, “Five Easy Pieces”, and “Love Song No. 7” round out the album and make it a worthwhile purchase.

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One response to “Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come

  1. Pingback: I Don't Like Mondays... Unless there are Links Involved. « The Extrapolater

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