The newly released singles compilation from Toronto’s hardcore torchbearers Fucked Up is simultaneously slightly curious and the most appropriate thing in the world. What band could possibly be better suited for this sort of thing? Fucked Up have been releasing 7”s and 12”s at such a steady clip since their inception that it not only makes sense that someone rounded these singles up and put them out as a double album, but it’s practically necessary. Yet, at the same time, these sorts of compilations are prime opportunities to help new fans catch up and provide an aural history of a band’s progression. Fucked Up, though considerably more adventurous than a great deal of their peers in the hardcore community, don’t really seem to require much of an explanation, no matter how new to their music you may be. They are a brainy, brutal, battering ram. End of story, right?
Well, Couple Tracks: Singles 2002-2009 begs to differ. Though Fucked Up has never been anything short of powerful, this compilation argues that there most certainly was a maturing process, subtle as it may have been. Searching for sophistication in music this primal may sound like a fool’s errand, but Fucked Up has always made a point to nod towards the eccentrics and academics while blowing the doors off. The lead song from Couple Tracks, and Fucked Up’s first 7”, makes both of these points fairly clearly. “No Pasaran” begins with an audio sample of a man encouraging a crowd to support a war, and ends with a chant of “No Pasaran (They shall not pass).” In between these samples is an unfocused blitzkrieg of drums and guitars. Fucked Up were announcing that they were not your average hardcore band, and that they were too hampered by their own angry enthusiasm to realize their potential.
Boy, did they get their shit together quick though. The following track, “Neat Parts,” shows Fucked Up in far more control of their sound. One of the most enjoyable elements of Fucked Up is the fact that they will always — always — be considered a hardcore band due to lead singer Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham’s inimitable howl. But the band behind Abraham is playing some remarkable tuneful stuff; they just happen to be playing it at blinding speeds. Switch out Abraham for a more melodically driven singer, and you have something closer to Titus Andronicus. Generally, these are huge rock anthems disguised by their breakneck pacing and insistent hollering. That description may not always perfectly apply. There’s no mistaking the first half of “Fixed Rates” for anything other than speed and force deliberately devoid of any poppy entanglements, but the nifty little lead guitar riff that shows up in the second half is catchy as all hell. And these poppy moments show up more often than you would think (see “Toronto FC,” “No Epiphany” or “Anorak City” for other examples of this)
Of course, those stray moments of instrumental melodicism are only part of the Fucked Up experience. Most Fucked Up fans rely on the band to soundtrack their righteous anger. In this regard and many others, Couple Tracks delivers the goods. At twenty-five tracks, the album plays for comprehensiveness rather than concision, but that’s just as well. Fans are treated to oddball selections (alternate versions, demos, covers, etc…) and those who only caught on after Hidden World or The Chemistry of Common Life are given a thorough crash course on the Fucked Up universe. For a band that made its name on confrontational music, they sure are some benevolent maniacs.