There are two ways to look at a Boston-based, hardcore group like the F.U.s. On the one hand, hardcore in Boston was derivative in the first place, having gotten much of its impetus from the Los Angeles hardcore movement. Hardcore in Boston seems at times to have stalled out musically, to be riding on a two-year-old momentum which was created by shock value rather than artistry.
On the other hand, the F.U.s record raw, energetic music that breathes new life into a dull scene.
Both ways seem equally valid. The F.U.s have just released an E.P., Kill for Christ, which at first sounds exquisitely boring. The album's title, and several of its songs, trivialize protest by whining like Holden Caulfield. The music is mostly speeded-up Chuck Berry riffs, with not-so-iconoclastic lyrics like "Weekends rule, and that's a fact/Gotta do it to the max." This theme has been exploited more successfully by the Beach Boys.
But unlike the Beach Boys, the F.U.s don't want to win the heart of a surfer girl. They'd rather get in a fist-fight with her. The mere threat that comes with hardcore is enough to thrill half a band's target audience and keep the other half away from its live music. After all, there is a certain mystique about being punched out by a rock and roller with a shaved head and sippers stitched into his cheek. Or so the story goes.
Artistic protests often lose validity by refusing to change and mature--hardcore as a form has only been incorporated into pop as a new technique, not changed its own musical focus. But the original reasons for the hardcore movement still exist. Teenagers are still facing odds stacked against employment; they are still being force-fed the same kind of marshamallow pop music that has been an FM staple since the mid-1970s.
There is still a disillusioned audience for hardcore. And so the movement can be seen as a revival--touching base again with rock's original audience.
The F.U.s also happen to be skillful musicians. Robert Furapples is one of Boston's better drummers, and a couple years of playing local clubs have tightened up the group to a point at which the F.U.s don't have to worry about playing well together.
There is more original songwriting on this E.P. than one finds on many albums--the F.U.s have crammed ten songs onto a tiny record. Some of their lyrics are particularly daring, especially for a group whose members are about the right age to be writing girlie tunes.
Lines like "Your life doesn't mean shit/Does that bum you out?/I won't get you high/I won't make you come" resist sexism by not mentioning women or men. The sons become diatribes against hedonism from the hedonist's point of view. They are vivid for the same reason that hardcore, despite criticism, remains alive--what else is there to do?
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There are a few songs that disc jockeys persist in playing incessantly despite reason, or, we suspect, human emotion. Following the revival of interest in the Doors, "Hello, I Love You" was aggressively trivialized by dangerous lunatics seeking relief from commercial New Wave.
Recently, Adam and the Ants' song, "Goody Two Shoes" (you know, "Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?") has fallen into the ad nauseum category.
The group's lead singer, Adam Ant, no longer as adamant in his hatred of popular convention, has taken an initiative that we fear is a bit silly. On the Ants' new album, Friend or Foe, appears a cover version of the old Doors song.
Cover versions used to serve as a way of popularizing less well-known groups; they also represented a spirit of artistic cooperation. But the Doors are not unknowns; Jim Morrison is more alive in the public eye than he was 13 years ago. It seems, dare we say, that Adam Ant has recorded this song to show off.
Not that he has much to show off about any more. He has failed, miserably, to follow the Success Recipe for Innovators. First, think up a novel idea or approach. Then play it so obnoxiously that people are forced to pay attention. When they have lent at least an ear, introduce more novelty. If you can't think up anything new, get drunk with Brian Eno and find out his ideas. Adam Ant started out on the right track with his first two American albums, Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming. On the new disk, however, he slits New Wave in the throat.
It's easy to tell exactly what will happen for a song's duration after hearing its first licks. The album's first cut, "Friend or Foe," features a bass line straight out of the B-52s' "Rock Lobster." It doesn't help.
In "Desperate but not Serious," the Ants reduce the Moody Blues to a cliche by making lust sinister. It almost works, but a happy-go-lucky bass line ruins the ceric vocals. In "Here Comes the Grump," the group turns self-reflective (ah, the traumas of being Number One) and even rehash the Shakespearean pun on death as orgasm.
Even the album's freshest song, "Crackpot History and the Right to Live," gets its energy from the combination of two old approaches: Aggressive, shouting disco and a psychedelic, stretched-out chorus that doesn't make sense.
As a friend once said, Isn't it horrible when you find out that everything is a cliche--that you are a cliche?