Just about everything concerning Toronto art-punks F*cked Up is larger than life: Their extensive D.I.Y. discography of 45’s and EPs; their rampaging hardcore rhythms; their massive walls of guitars; their ability to confront and challenge audiences; the huge melodies they somehow incorporate amid all that noise, and last but not least both the physique and the politically astute intellect of front man Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham. So noting that the group’s sprawling third studio album—an 18-song, 78-minute, four-act double concept album—is its best and most ambitious recording to date really is saying something.
Much has been made of the convoluted story behind this bona fide rock opera, which is confusing enough to make Tommy seem sensible. The bare-bones basics: The titular hero is a no-future working stiff toiling in a light bulb factory in an industrial English nowheresville who falls in love with a revolutionary troublemaker only to lose her in a terrorist bombing. (Shades of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil!)
Or so I’ve read. Truthfully, I’m way late with weighing in here. I was listening to the album for almost two months and loving it without having read a word about any of that, or realizing that Abraham actually was telling a story. (Albeit a twisted one, with all of that screaming, growling and howling at the moon.) You’re lucky to make out the occasional refrain coming from that tortured throat. His vocals always have been more of a texture in the mix than a central focus, and their very inscrutability is part of their power.
Think of the way Bob Mould’s vocals on Eight Miles High completely disintegrate into screaming in tongues at the climax of that classic cover, and that’s pretty much where Pink Eyes starts before ratcheting things up.
So, no, you don’t have to invest yourself in the libretto to appreciate David Comes to Life, anymore than you had to for Zen Arcade to knock you on your ass and thoroughly blow your mind. Along with everything else that F*cked Up accomplishes on this masterpiece, its biggest triumph is proving that absurd musical ambition and true pop craftsmanship didn’t end in hardcore punk with Hüsker Dü. And, all due credit to Pink Eyes, but his band-mates are equally deserving of props for this epic’s success. Bassist Sandy “Mustard Gas” Miranda’s gorgeous voice perfectly balances Abraham’s on the unforgettable The Other Shoe, and lead guitarist Mike “10,000 Marbles” Haliechuk’s versatility shines from the opening instrumental "Let Her Rest" through the tuneful, Who-like closer "Lights Go Up," with what easily seems like 10,000 memorable riffs in between.
On the four-star scale: 4 STARS