By: Eric Greenwood
While its music has progressed above and beyond the scope of punk and any of its splinterings, Fugazi’s anti-capitalistic message is still as stagnant as ever. I’ve always been one to ignore the band’s politics while still appreciating its music, and I do so to this day. When bands preach ceaselessly I have a hard time taking them seriously, even when they are as genuinely empathetic as Fugazi is and has always been. That said, The Argument is a stunning achievement for a band that should have imploded under the weight of its own idealistic principles long before now.
Fugazi has few, if any peers. It’s hard to believe that any band as stubbornly consistent as Fugazi has managed to turn its back completely on the music industry and still reach a considerable audience with each release. Granted, droves of the “straight edge” punks that were into Fugazi over a decade ago probably couldn’t care less about the band now, but plenty more people have signed up for the cause since- enough to keep your local National Guard Armory packed for a five-dollar show.
The first sign that the band was branching out from its post-punk dissonance was on 1993’s In On The Kill Taker, and each successive album has veered in slightly stranger directions- some unthinkable for a band that formed with a pedigree of Minor Threat and Rites Of Spring. The Argument is the logical culmination of a decade"s worth of experimentation. The band is approaching songs from a musical standpoint instead of from an emotional one, and that makes all the difference.
The sound of Ian Mackaye actually singing on "Cashout" will have many Fugazi fans double-checking the case to make sure it is indeed Fugazi emanating from the speakers. Mackaye has a drab and indistinguishable singing voice, but he"s earned the right to force it upon us, I guess. Of course, when the guitars charge up he slips back into the ever-familiar monotone yell that he"s built a career upon since he was a teenager. The music shows a newfound dynamism that reaches beyond the hackneyed soft/loud explosiveness inherent to Fugazi"s core sound.
As soon as Guy Picciotto"s maniacal yell kicks in on "Full Disclosure" it"s almost like a trip down memory lane. But what"s that in the chorus? Background "ooh"s?" Has Fugazi been listening to the Byrds? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, the tactic works. Mixing melody with dissonance is not a new game, but having practically invented the angular punk sound, Fugazi deserves a chance to deconstruct the formula a bit. "Epic Problem" may sound like the Fugazi of old upon first listen, but the recessive guitars in the bridge show the band"s passion for subtle musicianship expanding. Plus, Mackaye"s singing sounds good here (double tracking helps).
"Life And Limb" takes a cue from Picciotto protegees, Blonde Redhead, with its intricate guitar work and ethnic tinge. It"s moody and melodic and eerily addictive, allowing Picciotto to flex his artistic muscles without compromising the band"s sound. The experimentation continues on "The Kill", where a flowing, dub-sounding bass riff loops behind textured harmonies and Joe Lally"s bone-dry vocals. There"s no distortion whatsoever, yet the song yields a strange power. Who would have thought Fugazi could release an album this good this far into its career?
The dark and alluring guitar line of "Strangelight" culminates in a choirboy plea of "Come On Over." Picciotto"s voice sounds better than it ever has. The band has pulled out all the stops. This is Fugazi"s most ambitious and musically successful album to date. Uncharacteristically, the aggression is used sparingly, so when it does erupt you"re often surprised by how it"s been mutated. "Oh" is the perfect example. The music lurches sideways instead of climbing forward, relying clever vocal melodies to prop itself up. Bad ass. Fifteen years in and Fugazi is just now fulfilling its promise.