Friday, February 20, 2004

#67) Fugazi - The Argument (released in 2001, I bought this on CD in Northampton, MA soon after it came out while visiting my sister)

I'm tempted to say that this album was an unexpected comeback, but if I hadn't sensed some real potential here I probably wouldn't have bought it. It was as if Fugazi looked around, realized that the mainstream had finally stopped paying attention and decided to merge their ever-growing musical vocabulary with the anthemic force of their pre-"alternative" work. It's not like they'd have to worry they were capitulating to some market anymore. The Argument is no mere "return to form" though, as they team a renewed sense of purpose with the most grandiose, imaginative production of their career. A second drummer, female back-up singers, pianos, cellos and what sounds like a goddamn sitar are used to excellent dramatic effect throughout. These elements never outshine the interplay of the original four piece (never does the album sound unnecessarily overdubbed or bloated), it's just that for once they're really using the studio. Maybe the lack of touring forced by the birth Joe Lally's and Brendan Canty's children made the band no longer see albums as merely a menu to a live performance's meal.

I could definitely complain about the "abstract" quality of Fugazi's lyrics, but - being a lifelong R.E.M. fan, it really doesn't bother me as long as the underlying emotion isn't hindered by it. So while Ian MacKaye's screams of "accessory" on "Epic Problem" sound a lot like "blame sister ray," there's no ignoring the righteous anger of his voice and the manic, propulsive energy of the music. The words that do rise out of their mushmouths say plenty anyhow - MacKaye is clear and surprisingly melodic on the opening "Cashout," "Ex-Spectator" and the closing title track, sounding as determined as ever to voice his protests against greed and ignorance, but not hiding the fact that, being over 40, the wear of having the same debates over and over is starting to get to him. That anxiety matches perfectly with the album's grey artwork and the music's cold determination. Of the albums that I tend to associate with winter (i.e. Portishead's Portishead, Afghan Whigs' Black Love), this is easily my favorite.

As always, Guy Picciotto sounds like he's having a bit more fun (his "Life And Limb" and "Nightshop" both feature handclaps, something that MacKaye probably never thinks to incorporate). On an album devoid of musical disappointment, my favorite track is his "Full Disclosure," which probably would have made the Modern Rock Top Ten had it been on System Of A Down's Toxicity. Sonic Youth-style buzzing guitars are followed by spirited double drums and Picciotto incoherently screaming for release. The cresting chorus releases the tension without dropping the musical intensity one iota, giving Picciotto a chance to voice his desire ("full disclosure/ coming sponsored by no one/ take me over/ and blow out my mind") before the sound drops out and the cycle repeats itself. The closing coda, featuring Picciotto harmonizing with Bridget Cross and Kathi Wilcox, may be the most genuinely joyful sounds in Fugazi's entire recorded history - a veritable victory lap. He may be singing for more than just one good rock song (unsponsored full disclosure not only implies artistic expression but a wish for less secrecy in general), but "Full Disclosure" is one of the rare songs that give as well as demand. This may be the group's last album, and I can't imagine a more suitable finish.

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