By: Chicago Kenzo
My first day as a freshman in high school, I wore a Primus T-shirt that had the words “You suck” emblazoned on the back. I saw nothing objectionable about this. This was the era of Beavis and Butt-head and Bart Simpson was still a major celebrity. It was cute to be a bratty kid who uses quasi-incendiary language. TV characters were calling each other bastard, bitch, and saying crap like it was going out of style (apparently it did because they are saying much worse now). In the 80s you could get away with saying something or someone “sucked eggs.” By 1993, the “eggs” part dropped and “sucking” came into common nomenclature.
So I proudly wore that Primus T-shirt to show my peers two things. 1. Primus was awesome. 2. They “sucked.” Of course, those who “got it” didn’t suck. One person who did not get it was a disciplinarian who caught me standing in line to get my I.D. picture taken.
“Young man, do you think that T-shirt is appropriate?”
“Yes. I would not have worn it if I thought it wasn’t appropriate. I know what appropriate means.”
“How can you say that this T-shirt is appropriate, you know what it says on the back.”
“Yes, I looked at the back before I bought it. I wanted to make sure it didn’t say anything I didn’t agree with.”
I got a warning letter home and had to immediately change into my gym shirt for the remainder of the day. This really sucked because there were so many jerks out there who were supposed to read that shirt, but now they probably think I spilled milk on myself at lunch. Not cool.
Now it’s 2011 and I am sure that there is a kid out there having the same dilemma over his new Fucked Up (FU) T-shirt. If there were a mentorship program for snarky punk kids and snarky punk adults who are also full-functioning members of society, sign me up. We could listen to this record as I help him with his times tables.
This 12” single has two tracks that clock in at just under 25 minutes total.
The A-side is the title track, which opens with a strings, both haunting and hollow sounding, repetitive and tense. It may or may not be an intentional homage to the intro to Anthrax’s “Be All End All,” but that’s how it sounded to me.
Unlike “Be All, End All,” which quickly moves to classic thrash; FU dives into a regimented, lock-step clean guitar riff, painfully simple and perfect contrast to Damian Abraham’s raspy hardcore vocals. ImagineLou Koller beat up Julian Casablancas and stole his band (although a personal fantasy of mine would include Lou not stopping at the singer).
A clear distinction between FU and The Strokes is intelligent lyrics. FU uses the metaphor of a yoked ox to describe the brutish world of work. I couldn’t see anyone from the Strokes write such lyrics since I don’t think anyone in that band has ever held a real job.
The lyrics revolve around life of work-ox. Plugging ahead, never falling out of line. The riff plugs along with the ox whose days are all the same and has no identity beyond labor value. Over time, the need to increase productivity forces more weight onto the back of the aging ox and that increased tension is shown brilliantly through the music. But, like Boxer, the Ox “Will worker harder.”
The Ox displays self-awareness in the second verse where he realizes that “the turning world rests on my heels.” Economic progress is in the hands of the workers and by the fourth verse, the Ox realizes the tyranny of work and breaks free.
The freedom is not without pain as he looks back at the world he’s left. However, in the absence of the yoke, the Ox grows wings and flies away from the brutality of his masters. The strings return playing a celebratory tune of emancipation and promise for a better world.
The climax of the story takes place over the bridge where Abraham is joined by Nika Roza Danilova (AKA Zola Jesus), the haunting voice of freedom, whose clean female vocals contrast Abraham’s brutal intensity and collide before the Ox’s majestic declaration of independence from his masters.
The ox flies away and the track closes with the familiar strings.
The B-side “Solomon’s Song” reminds me of The Birthday Party, which makes it a perfect B-side. I look forward to skipping over it when its released again in a B-side compilation. It has saxophone which reminds me of Rob Lowe in St. Elmo’s Fire.
The hook rocks a little, but not much.
Side A: Crank it loud and sing along.
Side B: Don’t put it on your iPod. You’ll never use shuffle again.