Review Summary: Fugazi sits your mind down in a chair for 45 minutes, opens your eyes, and provides a musical consistency that conveys their message of immediacy and concern with poignancy.
The two extended arms on the cover of Fugazi’s The Argument
appear to be historic representations of justice or enlightenment, but their orientations are puzzling. It would seem that the outstretched torch-bearing arm would be in a position to pass this flaming symbol on to the next eager hand, though they are pictured anti-parallel. Upon further examination of the album jacket, its silver plated doors open, releasing a booklet from within, and revealing the image of a name and a date printed on the ground. The name belongs to Sandra Scheuer, and the date is of her death on May 4th, 1970. She was a student at Kent State, shot in the throat on her way to class during Vietnam protests, an innocent victim of misguided authority. The theme of questionable practices in government procedures is recurrent throughout The Argument
, a politically charged work of art. Fugazi doesn’t just tell stories with names or point fingers and expect you to react. They sit your mind down in a chair for 45 minutes, open your eyes, and provide a musical consistency that conveys their message of immediacy and concern with poignancy.
Ian MacKaye is a titan who helped develop the punk universe. Working out of Dischord House (where Dischord Records has been running strong for 27 years), MacKaye created a hub for music in Washington D.C., practicing the DIY and “flex your head” ethic he preached every step of the way toward organizing the minds of followers. His work in Minor Threat is still highly regarded and imitated, and when Minor Threat disassembled in 1983, MacKaye moved on to other short-lived projects. MacKaye recruited musicians for Fugazi in 1987, and after several lineup changes the band settled on D.C. native and former Rites of Spring guitarist Guy Picciotto to front the act.
Fugazi have a very balanced sound rounded out by bassist Joe Lally and ex-Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty. Throughout The Argument
, it is evident that the creativity devoted to the vibration of each string or intensity of each beat is concentrated on blending the sound rather than having a single instrument stand out. The sheer talent of each musician is amplified as a result of this cohesiveness. Developing such a focused sound isn’t particularly remarkable on any track. Rather, the entire album is very fluid. The album begins with the “Untitled” introduction, a song that sounds and acts very much like a transition from an external mood to the mood of the album. This works tremendously well to hold The Argument
together and lays an eerie foundation for its duration.
The rest of The Argument
contains impressive interplay between guitarists MacKaye and Picciotto. MacKaye usually lays the grinding, deep riffs on songs like “Epic Problem” or “Strangelight,” while Picciotto works up and down the fretboard to shape dynamics of hits like “Full Disclosure” or “Ex-Spectator.” They complement each other so well that it emphasizes bassist Joe Lally’s work in the band. Picciotto and MacKaye rock steadily on Lally’s bass lines, which emphasize the chemistry on the powerful “Cashout” and exceptionally subtle “Life and Limb,” among the rest of the songs. “Life and Limb” takes the album in a new direction musically as it breaks down the pace the album begins with, as Lally and drummer Canty produce a throbbing pulse, reverberating under Picciotto’s chants of “Viva viva viva life and limb.” Until “Oh,” the album doesn’t leave its disturbingly relaxed pace. It leaves a dramatic impression upon the listener, avoiding intermittent awkwardness that plagues sophisticated attempts at punk albums while maintaining a striking atmosphere.
MacKaye and Picciotto alternate singing duties, where MacKaye soothes from a throat worn by years of screaming into the microphone, and Picciotto uses a distinct tone wired from his own warped vocal chords. The lyrics recall Fugazi’s most innovative moments as heard on previous hits “Smallpox Champion” or “Suggestion,” with blisteringly chilling inquiries of society. Picciotto’s line during Strangelight, “I lay my head in it / a hundred plans to fortify beige concrete foes on for miles / hiding cities under it / fill my mouth with non-mouth spit / there was a light at the window there was light under the door but it's not there anymore,” furthers the intensity of a piano-laced song that interprets production and urbanization.
Someone once told me that Fugazi is an institution, not a band. Their lyrics, ethic, and musical talent create a force that tears slits through the veil of popular culture, allowing a brilliant light to emerge through the ignorance. The Argument
is probably Fugazi’s last album, as it has been roughly five years since they had any musical activity. MacKaye still has projects, as well as other Fugazi members, but it seems that their movement has halted, leaving only the ripples of their work to affect future generations. The music community can only wait for the brilliance to shine through once again.