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Fucked Up
Couple Tracks: Singles 2002-2009 Noel Gardner , February 4th, 2010 10:21

If you hold enough interest in the life and times of Toronto prank-punk conceptualists Fucked Up to be familiar with their proverbial 'earlier stuff', the sleeve of this 25-track double-disc compilation might too be familiar. Not a band to shy away from the meta, Couple Tracks' cover photo is a replication of Epics In Minutes, their first singles compilation from 2004. Half a decade's water under the bridge is hardly a Veterans Day reunion, but hey, Fucked Up have put in the hours in that time. Plus they like a thematically linked record sleeve or six.

Couple Tracks ranges from 2002-09, and none of this material has appeared on an album until now. The first disc is in chronological order, which causes no notable issues in terms of its 'flow': to date, Fucked Up's releases have amounted to eight years of linear progress. Released in 2002, 'No Pasaran' was their first ever single, and it sounds like it: a primitivist race to the finish that suggests Fucked Up's concern with musicianly matters (something that has defined them from Hidden World onwards, at least) were but a twinkle in their collective eye. The “weird feelings” that Couple Tracks' sleevenotes mention in association with the song may explain why it was never included on Epics In Minutes (which is nevertheless pretty much essential and canonical as 21st century hardcore punk goes).

Passing through the Poison Idea-meets-Angry Samoans metallic squall of 'Dangerous Fumes', the exemplary build'n'explode epic 'Triumph Of Life' and the hootingly insincere soccer-team shoutout 'Toronto FC', the compilation's first half closes with two alternative takes of songs from 2008's lavish The Chemistry Of Common Life. That Fucked Up concerned themselves with driving, tuneful hardcore punk for most of their first few years, before itchy feet and a desire for personal rebirths led them to record 18-minute songs that sounded like Stereolab and multitracked guitar parts that sounded like Oasis, has clearly kept them in good stead with the faceless sea of rock writers out there. Hey, when there's a word count at the end of the tunnel with a cheque stapled to it, a band being in possession of a bunch of songs that bang hard is only as, or less, important than them having a hook that you can hang your collective thoughts on.

Let's not be overly cynical where it isn't warranted: Fucked Up's drift away from hardcore has not taken them into areas that could reasonably be called 'commercial', and the level of control they exert over their music and its promotion appears to remain comfortably hands-on. It's understandable though that their manoeuvres post-Hidden World might inspire a touch more purple prose than a catalogue full of two-minute rammers like 'Fixed Race' - which, wouldn't you know it, is actually one of the best songs on here.

The second disc ranges from 2005-2008, in no date order, and comprises Matador-era B-sides, unlikely covers and a few other oddities. It's less cohesive than its other half, and hits fewer bullseyes all told. Although 'I Hate Summer' has teeth for days, and the band correctly identify 'Last Man Standing' as a rarely heralded highlight of Fucked Up's catalogue. Abraham's collector-derived fixation on 1980s British tweepop spawns Shop Assistants and Dolly Mixture covers, with the former's 'I Don't Want To Be Friends With You' being far better than the square-peg exercise one might expect.

The band themselves would probably be the first to agree that their 'danger factor', as trumpeted in the mainstream music media, is largely fantastical. Their canniness for publicity stunts lends them a certain individuality - it helps that they actually seem to enjoy them, rather than coming off like a band abseiling down a record company building to drop their demo tape into the CEO's office - and Damian Abraham has become increasingly wild and roaming in the live situation. It's hardly a GG Allin scenario out there, of course, and the vocalist is bearishly cuddly when all said and done. Fucked Up are a bit like that in general. In fact: there's something endearingly toothless about their swipes at idle targets. 'Ban Violins', a corker from 2005, was written largely for the purpose of clowning fellow Torontoite Owen Pallett; he guested on their album the following year. At the time of writing there seems to be a playground-level attempt to incite beef between Fucked Up and Sonic Youth, who you'd definitely expect to take this sort of thing entirely seriously.

Like many heralded punk bands through the ages, the great care they take in demonstrating how little they care what you think yields marvellous results. The labels of the - beautiful - double LP version of this compilation say “non-breakable”, however untruthfully; the small print of their 'Year Of The Pig' single credited backing vocals to Fernando Torres; their 2007 charity single 'David Christmas', about which their sleevenotes say “We spent about 90 hours with our friends wrapping ribbons around 1000 7”s so that kids could unwrap them for ten seconds to take pictures of the single and then sell them on eBay.” (The song is probably also their worst ever, although its B-side does feature Christmas messages from exciting celebrity guests such as Nelly Furtado.)

Even taking into account that there are people who think that Gallows getting dropped from their label the other week amounted to some sort of Dick Turpin-ish major label heist, Fucked Up haven't really fucked the game up in their time as a visible punk rock band. They are to be commended for doing things with a mischief and rare individuality - there's the rub though: they're more or less a one-off in the genre's last decade. That, along with the unusually high volume of kickin' tunes they've penned, is to their credit.