Thursday, September 13, 2007

mini review: "the shape of punk to come" - the refused

for whatever reason, i found myself listening to this record the other day, and i realized, "fuck. this is still so good." back when it first came out (brace yourself-- about 10 years ago. sup, mortality!), it was my go-to "car record"-- music i could put on in a car full of like-minded friends to absolutely no complaints. lucinda williams' "car wheels on a gravel road" will be my family's "car record" until the end of time. the lemonheads' "it's a shame about ray" does nicely whenever i'm cruising around with my friends from high school. you get the idea.

what's funny though is how "the shape of punk to come" had absolutely no right to be as good as it is. first of all, the refused themselves didn't exactly inspire high hopes-- if you had any casual knowledge of them at all (and why would you, they're swedish), you probably remembered them as a hardcore straightxedge band (sorry, but writing it out the normal way just looks weird) right down to their t-shirt sleeve hair bands, clothes that hated drinking (or at least said as such), and shitty music. as someone who doesn't drink, i resent the fact that i'm supposed to be represented by some of the crappiest music ever made. because there are certainly tons of songs, if not bands, that celebrate the alcoholic lifestyle, and their output is of a much higher quality. i'd much rather have josh homme be my mascot (or house boy--i wish we could go away, drink wine and screw, indeed) than earth crisis. boo.

anyway, second, the record came out on epitaph (distro only, and just in the us, but still), which at that point had put out so much middle-of-the-road punk (tm) that it seemed to exist only to give warped tour bands for their third stage next to the army recruiter booth. and then to call the record "the shape of punk to come"...they might as well have named it, "steaming hunk of crap with lyrics from babelfish."

and then there was the video for "new noise."

no more t-shirt sleeve hairbands for these lads, resplendid in fitted sweaters...and wax paper jumpsuits, and daft punk-style plastic masks, and a bunch of random shit that came out of nofuckingwhere and was a total mindfuck for anyone who saw it. and it's not just the visuals, of course-- within the first minute, the song has metal (that opening riff!), shitty techno (the beats'n'squeaks breakdown that comes RIGHT AFTER), and when the lyrics finally do come in, boom goes their ye olde hardcore roots ("CAN I SCREAM!" why yes, yes you can). and if you're not won over by the time he sings "woo!" like a college girl at spring break, it's only because you still can't figure out what the fuck is going on.

at its core, "new noise" is so goddamned fun. i'm sure it's making an important statement about something-- how can you get anyone to listen if you use the same old voice? you need new noise!-- but it's mostly just fist-pumping good times. which is pretty much the tone of the whole record. my favorite song was always "summerholidays vs. punkroutine"; another killer opening guitar lick (gross, i just said guitar lick!), important statement (rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in!), fist-pumping a plenty. "punk to come" is a sincere document of rebellion, but it also has electronicy interludes, spliced in applause, snippets from live performances, strings, traffic sounds, and THEN it has songs that are both brutal and melodic at the same time. i still have no idea how they pulled it off.

there's that rock cliche about bands that only sell 500 records but inspire those 500 people to start bands, but in this case, the refused sold a decent amount of records, many to bands that already existed and made mediocre music, and inspired them to...keep making mediocre music but maybe make videos that looked more like "new noise." musically, they all worshiped "punk to come," but if the blink 182 song formula ain't broke, don't fix it, i guess, so just show your love by directing a video for those tards in taking back sunday or whatever, make them wear cat masks, and call it an homage. thursday hired the "new noise" director for a video where they're supposed to be underwater(?), but putting a thursday song in a refused video doesn't change much-- you can't polish a turd. there were plenty of shitty screamy bands at the time who probably thought they were of the refused school, except they had no hooks, no fun, no anything but a lead singer with throat pollups and a standing invitation to play at abc no rio any saturday they desired.

the title "the shape of punk to come" sounds like nothing more than a crappy album name thought up by people who speak english as a second language, but it's actually even more simple than that-- this record should have been the shape to come. but even those people who loved it didn't know how to even attempt following its lead. the refused couldn't even do it-- they broke up, and the next band the singer formed, the international noise conspiracy, was all the political rhetoric with a third of the punch of "punk to come" and none of the fun. they fit in really well on warped tour in 2004, where they sold faux army caps that bore their name. the revolution will be accessorized, indeed.

when you think about it, punk, or really music in general, went everywhere but where this record suggested. revolution, if you can call it that, fell into the hands of hippies-- black dice went from punching people at abc to putting out half-hour long heavy jams that sounded like an ambient waves sound machine flirting with a sizzle ride cymbal. some people try to convince me that against me! are trying to rise to the challenge, but i dunno. can they scream? especially when the songs i've heard from their early records sound like ani defranco's tetchy younger brother?

and while so much of the music that came out around then by the people who claimed to be "punk" sounds as dated as a howard dean joke, "punk to come" has lost nothing. maybe there's still a chance it's actually the sound of punk to come. until then, it still sounds killer in my car.

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