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No junior high schooler is painting Arcade Fire’s name onto their backpack strap in Wite-Out; no one is branding the Neon Bible logo into their skin with a cigarette; no one is shoplifting a 40 and skateboarding behind the Walmart at 3 a.m. to “No Cars Go.” A Montreal college-rock collective calling their breakthrough album The Suburbs is tax-bracket tourism, rootsy posturing from cool adults who were relieved to leave the suburbs as soon as possible—at best, a whimsical literary affect; at worst, the drollest form of hipster imperialism. This isn’t to say that brainy, brawny Toronto sextet Fucked Up are spending their afternoons passing roaches in the Chick-fil-A parking lot, but at least their equally ambitious concept album, David Comes to Life, actually speaks the lingua franca of Teenage Wasteland, USA—punk rock! A gnashing hardcore tantrum filtered through the arena aspirations of contemporary Canadian indie, their rumination on love in the shadow of small-town solipsism is the 78-minute Arcade Firebomb. Full of similarly beaming harmonies, baroque arrangements, uplifting hooks, labyrinthine plotlines, and an epic (read: looooong) run time, David Comes to Life is a gleaming, seemingly endless punker paroxysm where every VFW hall is your Madison Square Garden. The real Suburbs.
As tempting as it is to call this “Tommy for the Tommy Stinson set” (or even—gulp—”Canadian Idiot“), David Comes to Life mirrors “epic rock musical” in size and scope only. Beyond the chiming, Branca-esque opener, “Let Her Rest,” there’s no actual drama or dynamics or rising-and-falling action. This is not an insult, since you can say the same thing about any Circle Jerks album. There’s maybe two times when an acoustic guitar lets you catch your breath for about 30 seconds, but otherwise David constantly gallops forward, onward, upward, loudward. No melancholy allowed; only the most blissed-out hooks of the Wipers, the Soft Boys, or Hüsker Dü (or Titus Andronicus, for that matter), all of which provide a constantly goosebump-inducing backdrop for frontman Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham’s NYHC-hewn barfybark. There’s a massive lyric sheet that spins a mostly inscrutable tale of love, loss, and rebirth; but on David, all three emotions just sound like triumph, a spittle-flecked fistfight with Bono for king of the fucking mountain. It’s all climax, all the time. Compare this to Jesus Christ Superstar at your own peril; the metaphor only works if every song was the last 60 seconds of “Superstar.”
It’s a true testament to the band that its windswept glory-rock stays exhilarating for nearly 80 minutes. Twin guitarists Mike Haliechuk and Josh Zucker create a swirl of gorgeous shooting-star riffs while Abraham just rants and roils and roars. He’s a true master of blending chaos with precision, sounding like he’s going off the rails (he only manages to choke out about 90 percent of the words in any given line) but staying magically, impossibly in tune. He’s a Rollins-style ranter who raps about love the same way that Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin sings about the blood of the proletariat (get your dictionaries at the ready, lovebirds: “syncretism,” “perfidy,” “obdurate”).
Abraham’s public persona cuts like that of a punk-rock James Murphy, a nerd who avidly blogs about record collecting and isn’t shy about showing his influences. For more fun, dig up David’s Town, a Record Store Day tie-in compilation on which Fucked Up invent 11 bands that would have lived in the fictional town where this album takes place, including spot-on takes of kids wrestling with the wake of the Rezillos, Angry Samoans, and Cabaret Voltaire. (It’s on eBay.) Similarly, Abraham’s delivery on David lurks somewhere in a well-kept record collection stuffed with ’80s screed-makers, ’90s emo heart-tuggers, and ’00s artcore mutants; he nails each decade’s propensity for lefty politics, heart-on-sleeve confessionals, and caustic irony. You can hear all three when he screeches, “The boot off my throat, let’s all emote.” Weird that he’s from Toronto originally—traditionally, kids who grow up in the suburbs have the most time to think about that shit.