NOTES FROM "THE SHAPE OF PUNK TO COME")
I met Dennis
at a hardcore show in Stockholm several years ago. Since then, through
many trips to Sweden, I have gotten to know Dennis, David, Stone and Jon
quite well. There have been many late nights talking, afternoons playing
discgolf, countless hours sitting around in Dennis’ living room (which
I have long since claimed as my own), and hard road trips while on tour.
When they asked
me to write a piece for this album I was surprised at their choice of person.
They all know that I am not the biggest fan of the type of music that they
play and I am definitely not experienced at writing liner notes. I may
know little about music but I know a bit about what the people in the band
have been doing, thinking and experiencing since they made their last album.
I suppose it is this that qualifies my thoughts on the matter as authoritative.
What I feel that I am being asked to do is give a brief objective interpretation
(if there can ever be an “objective” anything) of the underlying meaning
behind a band like Refused releasing an album like this one. Now we shall
see if I am up to the task at hand. To me this album is a reflection of
tensions that exist within the band, or more to the point, most bands.
These tensions are caused, in part, by diverging ideas, interests, and
directions and, in part, by the obligations and responsibilities which
being in a band dictate. There are multiple creative elements in a band
which all contribute their part towards the creation of the whole. However,
each of these people lead different lives and thus is propelled by different
influences. To understand the impact of these individual differences one
must turn to the underlying reasons behind the band’s very existence.
Refused came together with the common purpose of playing as a hardcore
band. Getting the band up and running accomplished this. The commonality
of initial purpose thus became obsolete to a certain extent. The initial
purpose served as the adhesive and, when this dissolved, something further
was required to insure cohesion. For some of the band members it is fact
that the band provides a venue for the expression of ideas. The lyrics
and message of the band has always had a political agenda. For others,
the band serves as an environment in which to refine and advance their
personal musical ambitions. Being that ideas can be expressed to any sound
track, it is the latter of the above functions that is most susceptible
to the passing of time. As time passes, the limits of growth and progression
within a set paradigm get reached. If it is the goal to continue to produce
then there are two paths that can be taken: expansion outside of the set
paradigm or stagnation and, inevitably, repetition.
to be true to themselves, have to expand in new directions. While this
satisfies their obligations to themselves, it also satisfies their obligation
to their past and their influences. Their past is given continued meaning
through their progression and building upon it. Also, there are few things
worse than mocking music that you love and the musicians who created by
playing “down” to that music. A large part of what makes some bands so
great is not just rooted in the actual music, ideas, or the fact that they
“were the first to do it.” Rather, it is that they were giving their best
effort and playing at the edge of their abilities at all times. If a band
ever finds that it is not doing both of those things then they are not
playing the kind of music that they should be playing. There is no better
tribute to a creative influence than being creative. For a band to satisfy
themselves as a collective, the trajectory of growth and change has to
be acceptable to all. However, it must be kept in mind that “acceptable”
is often inherently a compromise and thus, laced with internal tensions.
of the above often causes a new level of friction, that between the band
and the people who like and support the band. It can be quite disappointing
for a fan to get the band’s new album and then find out that it is different
in a way not approved of. I am sure that everyone can relate this feeling
to first time that they listened to “Scream of Consciousness” by Cryptic
Slaughter or “Cold Lake” by Celtic Frost.
are often smoothed over because there is a degree of change which is usually
acceptable. Once this difference has exceeded the acceptable limit then
a fan can do one of two things: move with the band or let the band move
past them. “What are they doing?” might be a question that is asked after
the first spin of this record. I suspect that the band would be the worst
source to go for an answer to that question. I don’t believe they could
really tell what they are doing or where they are going with this. All
they know is were they came from, what they have done, what has been done
by others, and what needs to be done. This is their response to the vague,
yet compelling impulses which coax them onward. Is this really the sound
and shape of punk to come? Maybe. Maybe not. It would be fair to say that
the musical direction of the album fits into the revolutionary attitude
of the band much more than anything which they have produced before. While
in past albums, there were the hints of revolution, embedded in the lyrics
and layout, in this album, the entire product conveys this suggestion of
revolution. The lyrics, music, and layout all merge together to give you
something different; something to inspire thought that runs much deeper
that what is printed on the lyric sheet. Regardless of what it amounts
to, the band is trying new possibilities, not just for themselves but for
all whom expect them to create.