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splendid > reviews > 11/12/2001
Fugazi
Fugazi
The Argument
Dischord


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Ex-Spectator"

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Editor's Note: Our apologies for not getting to this sooner. Our writers were fighting over which of them was going to do it.

"Here comes the argument," Ian Mackaye sings on the title track of Fugazi's seventh album, distilling in four simple words the operative metaphor for the group's entire career: they don't want you to fall placidly in line, they want to convince you. Fugazi have always labored under the weight of high artistic and personal expectations, occasioned by a series of uniformly strong albums -- continued, happily, with The Argument -- and even stronger opinions about the foibles of America's foreign and domestic policy in relation to individuals' responsibility toward themselves and others. Fugazi's reputation as a humorless, didactic bunch was undercut by 1999's riveting, funny documentary about the band, Jem Cohen's Instrument. Never as self-righteous as their detractors would attest, the band's ability to transform into art complicated social issues of displacement, corporate greed, globalization, and alienation sets its work apart from mere sloganeering. Given the current state of the world, Fugazi's skepticism and empathy now seem all the more appropriate, and necessary.

As with many long-running bands, Fugazi's albums have come under critical scrutiny from those who prefer the band's "early work". The Argument moves in the same direction as their last two studio albums, 1995's Red Medicine and 1998's End Hits, forgoing the unrelenting guitar workouts of their earliest albums in favor of layered, complex songs that swing easily, and sometimes rapidly, from quiet insinuation to full-throttle invective. Female backing vocals and, on two tracks, a mournful cello are additions to Fugazi's sonic palette; a second percussionist adds a subtle extra punch to a group that, in Brendan Canty and Joe Lally, already has one of the best rhythm sections in rock. But The Argument isn't about new tricks from old dogs. The band's legendary independence -- running their own record label, eschewing mainstream press and radio play, charging only $5 for tickets to always-filled concerts -- has proven fruitful for their long-term artistic growth. Not having to jump bandwagons in a continual effort to meet the sales expectations of a major label, the band has continually refined their noisy, post-punk sound, carefully adding and subtracting, complicating and simplifying as the songs demand. Fugazi has at this point forged a sound as unique and easily identifiable as any other great rock & roll band. While The Argument may not be as bracing as their groundbreaking work from a decade ago, it crystallizes the strengths of four musicians hitting every mark.

Highlights and thrilling moments abound: "Full Disclosure" succeeds as both a raging missive ("I want out," howls the band's other vocalist/guitarist, Guy Picciotto) and the most melodic song the band has ever recorded, down to the "oooooh"'s of the chorus. With a bass-and-guitar intro reminiscent of Sonic Youth, "The Kill" contains another first -- a whistling solo -- and Mackaye's soft "I'm not a citizen" chorus. "Oh" engages corporate monoculture ("Number one in acquisitions/Now there is no foreign soil") with a welcome bit of sly humor, as Picciotto sings, "Memo to the partners:/I'm changing all the locks/I'm pissing on your modems/I'm shredding all the stock." "Cashout"'s incisive indictment of gentrification ("Talking about process and dismissal/Forced removal of the people on the corner/...The elected are such willing partners/Look who's buying all their tickets to the game/Development wants, development gets/It's official") is bolstered by the simple language of description: "On the morning of the first eviction/They carried out the wishes of the landlord and his son/Furniture's out on the sidewalk next to the family." "Epic Problem" straight-up rocks, while addressing a more personal pain in lines like "And inside I know I'm broken."

"When people are catching what bombers release/I'm on a mission to never agree," goes another line in "Argument", a hint at Fugazi's tenacity, and their strength. Concerned with the topical, engaged in the grit of the world around them, the band's songs are more timeless than might be expected. Their combination of emotion and analysis shows us the world we live in, as individuals and as a culture, and suggests -- convincingly -- that a better way might be sought. Whether that's an argument this essential band will ever win isn't clear, but we should enjoy listening in. -- Ryan Tranquilla

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