One Day by Fucked UpRelease date: January 27, 2023
Label: Merge Records
Toronto five-piece Fucked Up emerged 22 years ago out of their hometown’s vibrant hardcore punk scene. Lead guitarist and founding member Mike Haliechuk says when the band originated, three of them could not play their instruments properly and they only expected to last a short time as a group. Despite this, the band have recorded and released countless singles and five LPs. In 2006, already with numerous EPs and tours under their belts, Fucked Up released Hidden World, their debut LP. This remains, to date, perhaps their only ‘official’ album to maintain a noticeable degree of adherence to the sonic conventions of the hardcore punk genre that birthed them, despite the majority of its 13 songs stretching well beyond the five-minute mark. 2008 saw Fucked Up venturing into more experimental terrain with the Polaris-winning The Chemistry of Common Life, a concept album about the world’s inception, which they followed up in 2011 with David Comes to Life, a rock opera about factory worker David Eliade’s ill-fated romance with activist Veronica in late 1970s north-central England.
They then, in their own words, “reacted against” this album by releasing the leaner, far more concise Glass Boys in 2014, whose songs dealt with anxiety over the compromise of youthful ideals and the ethical debates raised by making a living from playing in a nominally hardcore punk band in one’s early 30s. Dose Your Dreams (2018) was a counter-reaction to this album’s brevity, an 18-song, 82-minute behemoth of a sequel to David Comes to Life that dealt with David’s wrongful dismissal from his office job and subsequent drug-induced voyage of discovery. The album resonated greatly with me upon its release, as at the time I was dealing with similar feelings of dislocation from a corporate working environment to those experienced by David. Fucked Up’s sixth LP, One Day, feels like another reaction against the epic scope of its predecessor, insofar as it comprises ten songs across 40 minutes’ playing time. The band say that all five members had a maximum of three eight-hour sessions (totalling 24 hours, i.e. one day) to record their parts, with the idea behind the album being to explore the potential of what can happen within one day. Drummer Jonah Falco says One Day “is about how we see time passing in our lives”.
The album opens with ‘Found’, a song written by Haliechuk about the realisation he had as a 20-year-old that the house he was being evicted from due to gentrification was built on a First Nations trail, making him a tiny part of the gentrification process himself. Whilst this might seem at odds with One Day’s overarching thematic concern, forcible removal from land is a process that can take place over the span of a day when one thinks about it. The song’s treble chords are akin to those played on songs from Fucked Up’s third album like ‘Running on Empty’, but with a rougher and more suitable production job underpinning them than the overly clean, radio-friendly one Britney Spears (!) engineer Shane Stoneback performed on that record. Despite dealing with Haliechuk’s angst about living on “land that my people stole”, the song’s chorus is very catchy and melodic, Falco’s harmonious backing vocals providing an effective counterpoint to lead vocalist Damian Abraham’s signature barks and growls. The glam rock-influenced nautical tale that follows it, ‘I Think I Might Be Weird’, I found to be less effective, however.
This minor drawback is more than forgiven, though, when the roaring, chiming, loud, confident guitars on ‘Huge New Her’, a song inspired by dropped letters from a sign advertising a washing machine saying ‘huge new washer’ Haliechuk saw in his neighbourhood, kick in. It should be stated at this point that a major positive attribute of One Day in comparison with Dose Your Dreams is the lack of extraneous instrumentation. This is an album driven by Haliechuk’s guitars, and it is all the better for it. Fucked Up have sensibly jettisoned the synths and drum machines that occasionally made Dose Your Dreams feel like it was indulging in experimentation for its own sake (and made their recent EP, Oberon, feel like it was doing that throughout). This is a band who know their strengths and are playing to them, with Haliechuk already having proudly described ‘Huge New Her’ as “my version of what every Fucked Up song should sound like”.
Another strong song on this album is ‘Lords of Kensington’, a wistful, mid-tempo track that serves as a thematic cousin to ‘Found’. Having excluded himself from the writing process for Dose Your Dreams, this is the first Fucked Up album since Glass Boys to which Abraham contributed lyrics, and this song features some of them. The song deals with his guilt about having (unthinkingly) participated in the gentrification of Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood by playing gigs there with Fucked Up in the early 2000s. It also addresses Abraham’s guilt over having prominently advocated for a form of cannabis legalisation which has now been co-opted and capitalised on by policemen who own cannabis stores in the neighbourhood. Haliechuk strikes some potent power chords, whilst Falco sings poignantly that “amnesty is a dream/Legalisation was a scheme/And they lie through their fucking teeth”. Towards the song’s end, Falco’s plaintive falsetto vocals take on an echoey quality that is quite haunting.
Abraham also wrote the lyrics to the musically (if not lyrically) perkier ‘Broken Little Boys’, a track whose upbeat, vibrant guitar riffs recall those on ‘Tell Me What You See’ from Dose Your Dreams. The song sees him addressing his anxiety at being a father of three boys in a toxically masculine culture and his failing efforts to prevent them from being exposed to the sort of negative influences (toy guns, Christianity, pornography) that were a part of the pre-pubescent male cultural landscape when he was growing up. Despite this weighty subject matter, the song’s central melody is highly infectious.
Side two begins with ‘Nothing’s Immortal’, a song that deals with Abraham’s self-doubt as to whether he is still young enough to be playing in a punk band at all. Appropriately enough for a song about loss of self-confidence about one’s own place in punk rock, it opens with what sounds like an electric organ being played, in a rare departure from One Day’s relatively straightforward guitar-bass-drums instrumentation. The fact that such a sound is a rarity on this album makes it feel like it is being used sparingly and thoughtfully, as opposed to the way in which instruments that are ‘non-traditional’ for punk bands were used on Dose Your Dreams, a record that occasionally felt like it was going to collapse under the weight of all the saxophones and synths and the like. Oddly, considering the lyrics address self-doubt, Abraham sings them with real brio and confidence, and ‘Nothing’s Immortal’ has the sound of a song that will instigate crowd singalongs on Fucked Up’s upcoming tour.
The song’s guitars have a powerful, muscular sound that continues throughout ‘Falling Right Under’, a song written by Damian Abraham ostensibly about the loss of an unspecified loved one(s) and the regrets he has over the things that he never got to say to them. One Day is dedicated to the several friends and family who Fucked Up have sadly lost since the release of Dose Your Dreams, and ‘Falling Right Under’ is one of the songs on the album that ties most directly into this theme. It is also the song on the album that addresses most poignantly the LP’s over-arching concern of how someone’s life can be altered over the course of one day (bereavement, after all, is something that can and does occur over the course of one day). On the musical side of things, Haliechuk’s guitars recall those on the title track of Glass Boys at certain points on ‘Falling Right Under’, whilst Falco’s mellifluous backing vocals continue to complement Abraham’s gruff, almost hoarse lead vocals very effectively.
I initially found the title track of One Day slightly underwhelming when it was released as the album’s lead single. In the context of the whole album, though, rather than played as a teaser track, it is a lot more satisfying to listen to. The lyrics address the LP’s overall conceit in a more on-the-nose way than those on any of the record’s other songs (“What could you do in just one day/Fall in love, spend your time away”), but the catchiness of the song’s chorus feels more urgent on an album track than it did on a single. However, this is swiftly blown out of the water by One Day’s true pièce de résistance: ‘Cicada’. Haliechuk performs the song’s plaintive lead vocals and does an absolutely brilliant job of singing them. The album’s press release accurately describes the Hüsker Dü-esque track as “a sonic cousin to Dose Your Dreams’ excellent standout ‘The One I Want Will Come for Me’.” In terms of mood, ‘Cicada’ is more akin to ‘Normal People’, the wistful power pop song on Fucked Up’s last album on which David Eliade mourned the loss of his job. The lyrics of ‘Cicada’, however, are addressing a more personal loss. Haliechuk says the song is about a friend of the band who had cicadas growing under his porch and has now sadly passed away. His sadness at the loss of his friend is almost audible in the way he sings the song’s melancholic chorus (“Give me one more day/Let me hear you say/I’ll remember you, my friend”).
One Day ends on a similarly moving note with ‘Roar’. Abraham says he wrote the song as a tribute to his wife, Lauren, and the role she has played in keeping him sane enough to still be fronting the band after all this time (“There’d be no me in Fucked Up without her … she has kept me in this band over the years”, he recently told the Kreative Kontrol podcast). Musically, the song recalls the sort of punchy, upbeat punk songs like ‘I Hate Summer’ and ‘The Curry Song’ that Fucked Up used to include on releases accompanying more conceptually highbrow albums like The Chemistry of Common Life and David Comes to Life. Overall, it makes for a very satisfying track on which to close One Day, although ‘Cicada’ would have possibly felt like a slightly more climactic final song.
In conclusion, One Day is a very good album. One of Fucked Up’s best to date, no less. It possibly isn’t quite as good as Hidden World or Glass Boys, but it represents a definite improvement on the band’s second and third albums and Dose Your Dreams, the latter of which featured some very good songs, but also contained a fair few filler tracks and some unnecessary instrumentation. The decision to eschew guest musicians and vocalists and have all the music performed by Abraham, Haliechuk, Falco, and bassist Sandy Miranda has paid off, resulting in a record with a more focused and cohesive sound than has been present on much of the band’s recent work. The album’s theme of one day’s potentialities is an interesting one, although many of the songs’ lyrics are concerned with the sadness and bereavements that a day can bring, rather than the good times that can occur across 24 hours. This is perhaps understandable, given the number of loved ones the band have sadly lost in recent years. Musically, it will appeal to fans of punchier, more straight-ahead Fucked Up albums such as Hidden World, rather than more epic works like David Comes to Life. Whilst One Day can’t be said to be a return to the hardcore punk of the band’s early singles like ‘No Pasaran’ or ‘Dangerous Fumes’, it is one of their tightest, leanest, most focused collections of indie punk songs in years. By focusing on a more personal theme than they did on their last album, Fucked Up have delivered a record that is an attention-grabbing, thoughtfully executed, and ultimately moving meditation on gentrification, grief, the passing of time, and the onset of early middle age. And, most importantly, it features some absolutely colossal riffs.