How do you solve a problem like growing up? That’s the key question that hovers over the fourth album by Toronto’s finest punk exports, Fucked Up. And it’s something that I imagine many of their fans are wrestling with as well. How does one continue to engage with this music and this lifestyle that feeds off the energy and braggadocio of youth?
With this band, the way to reconcile it is to temper the sonic assault in large and small ways, while also leaving their burly frontman Damien Abraham right at the head of the back, braying like a cornered dog and sweating from every pore. The former is the most dramatic element of Glass Boys. There’s still fury and power in the three-guitar assault, but gliding alongside it are smoother touches: the almost folksy singing that repeats the title of the song “Sun Glass,” or the refrain in “The Art of Patrons” (“It’s the privilege of mass delusion”) that on any other band’s album would be a fist-pumping moment but Fucked Up turns into a cyclical round of vocalists, singing it as sweetly as you please.
There’s still a lot of stirring emotion brought to life by the collective force of this band. And for much of the album, it helps elevate the conflicts that Abraham and guitarist Mike Hallechuk express in their lyrics. Likely many of Fucked Up’s listeners (especially those who have followed the group since their 2001 inception) can relate to lyrics like “I wore out my grooves/I’m just a faded tune/Not an echo boom but a whimper.”
Before long, it becomes strangely alienating. Anyone who knows the band knows the position Fucked Up is in. They have reached the rarefied air of being able to make money from their art and it has made Abraham a semi-celebrity. So to have to listen them musically come to terms with the fact that they have become part of the establishment their hardcore roots would otherwise bristle against feels downright awkward. Sure, “the cash in his hand changes a man,” but I don’t see him turning it down any time soon.
What Fucked Up also needs is for Abraham to evolve with the music. The instrumentalists have been pushing into much more melodic and challenging territory for years now. Yet, the singer still maintains his throat-shredding bark. And that once-thrilling juxtaposition is quickly starting to wear out its welcome. It’s long past time for Abraham to meet his bandmates halfway and follow them into this richer musical word.