With the release of David Comes to Life in 2011, Fucked Up effectively shattered the punk/hardcore mold—but that’s not exactly saying much. For one, that mold had been smashed to bits several times over by a succession of bands, including Hüsker Dü, Quicksand, Refused, At the Drive-In, the Locust, the Blood Brothers, These Arms Are Snakes, and more. Moreover, Fucked Up have spent the bulk of their 20-year career shattering boundaries themselves. Crucially, though, where those other bands used hardcore as a jumping-off point, Fucked Up started with a sound rooted in the same strain of Bad Religion-derived punk that countless hordes of Warped Tour-bound acts followed in lockstep with one another.
It’s easy to see why the first Fucked Up full-length, 2006’s Hidden World, got the Toronto sextet (then a five-piece) classified as a punk outfit. This designation stuck even though guitarist/bandleader Mike Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco began pushing the band’s sound in every conceivable direction pretty much from that point forward. However, if David Comes to Life wasn’t the band’s first assertion of their creative autonomy, it remains the most decisive in the far-reaching Fucked Up catalog. In retrospect, David Comes to Life cemented Fucked Up’s status not just as a group that threw curveballs but one with an almost perverse knack for delivering on their most outlandish ideas.
On paper, David Comes to Life should have been a mess. A 78-minute opus self-consciously fashioned as a rock opera, the album combines the velocity of hardcore, the exuberance of pop-punk, the tone fetishism of shoegaze, and the anthemic populism of classic rock. For good measure, the band threw in what Falco recently described in a Matador Records podcast as three-part, doo wop-style backing vocals inspired by the Everly Brothers. Where legendary acts like the Who, Bruce Springsteen, and the Clash were aware that they were speaking for their respective generations, Fucked Up upped the ante on them all by trying to wrap their arms around all eras of rock music in a single gesture. Oddly, they succeeded.
Yes, the storyline is so overwrought it would make Pete Townshend blush, but that didn’t stop the music from connecting. David Comes to Life earned Fucked Up many critical accolades, including SPIN’s album of the year honors, an accompanying cover story, and their second nomination for Canada’s prestigious Polaris prize. Looking back at the state of pop culture from a ten-year distance, there’s always a sense that the landscape has shifted—but also a feeling that the period you’re looking back on has slipped just barely out of reach. Reading through the breathless coverage of David Comes to Life now, it’s hard not to feel stirred by that familiar feeling when a band’s rise aligns with the zeitgeist.
To mark the occasion—and as an excuse to push new product for a series of retrospective live dates that wrapped in February—Matador compiles a bunch of David b-sides into Do All Words Can Do, which marks the first time any of these tracks is available in a format other than seven-inch. Fucked Up recently made available a 2011 live performance of David in its entirety as well. If it fills you with bittersweet reminiscence to think back to where your life was back then, the startling freshness of Do All Words Can Do will shake the nostalgia right out of your mood. One might expect that Fucked Up exhausted their creativity by honing the 18 songs on the original album, but apparently, that wasn’t the case. And if we’re being honest, Do All Words Can Do actually says more at a fraction of the length.
It’s not just that the band sounds so powerful and energized on these songs or that the music is so bracing. With Do All Words Can Do, Fucked Up prove what a consummate songwriting unit they are, whether working together as a team. or whether leaving a handful of members to build the tracks up on their own. On certain songs, for example, Falco does the lion’s share of the playing himself, and yet it’s nearly impossible to tell those songs apart from the ones featuring Fucked Up’s trademark three-guitar tandem of Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook (who departed the band last year after spending much of the pandemic stranded with his group Young Guv in Taos, New Mexico).
Any which way, that familiar Fucked Up spirit never wavers, with the band sustaining its unbridled ferocity while navigating numerous twists and turns, buildups, payoffs, and shifts in texture, mood, and style—often within the same song. “What Would You Do” nods back to classic ska-punk without ever tilting over into ska. Meanwhile, the title track achieves a breathtaking level of locomotion matched only by the band’s eyebrow-raising precision. With “Byrdesdale Garden City”, on the other hand, Fucked Up still managed to sound frantic even while holding back the tempo, with Falco’s drum part furiously paddling away like a swimmer splashing their legs in place.
“The Truest Road” allows us to imagine Canadian rock legends, the Tragically Hip, writing one of their twangy, hook-filled tunes while hopped-up on amphetamines, with the endlessly uncoiling, sweetly melodic “Remember Me” recalls Wowee Zowee-era Pavement. The mini-epic “What They Didn’t Know” covers as much ground in under five minutes as most prog bands take 20 minutes to express. When David was released, it’s not like anyone got the impression that Fucked Up were a band with a knack for economy. But Do All Words Can Do shows us that that was the case all along—had they chosen to, Fucked Up could have wrung four albums out of this body of material.
Fans of the original album will recognize aspects of the David concept, with references to story elements (like bomb-making) and characters (Veronica, David, Octavio) featuring prominently. Unencumbered from the story—even unshackled from the main album and any awareness of its place in Fucked Up’s legacy—the music is left to just shine on its own. Like David, Do All Words Can Do benefits from the clarity of Shane Stoneback’s mix. And like just about anything in the Fucked Up catalog that frontman Damian Abraham sings on, the discrepancy between the lush sparkle of the music and the sandpaper roughness of the lead vocals might be a bridge too far for some listeners.
Stick with Do All Words Can Do long enough, though, and Fucked Up’s tangled web of contradictions makes sense—Abraham’s limitations actually highlight the melodic dimension of the guitars and, as it turns out, the indulgence of the David song cycle ultimately reveals a band that could cut to the chase with astounding quickness, and the laser accuracy to match. The only quibble would be the false advertising of an 11-second snippet as the “demo” for the David single “Queen of Hearts” but again this proves to be a benefit, allowing Do All Words Can Do to stand entirely as its own work.