If there’s two fads that seem to have hooked their roots into punk rock these days, it’s acoustic solo/side projects and band reunions. Bands just don’t seem to be able to stay broken up.
Good Riddance, Blink 182, Rocket From The Crypt, Black Flag (in different configurations) and Refused are but a few who have thrown in the towel, only to pick it back up again shortly thereafter. And while Refused may not have had the biggest commercial success while they were banging away in their initial heyday, theirs was probably the biggest in terms of influence and impact.
The Shape of Punk To Come, their highly influential album released two short years before the end of the millennium, to some, changed everything.While pop punk boy bands like Blink, Simple Plan and Good Charlotte had a stranglehold on the airwaves and the bank accounts of their fans, Refused were taking punk and reinventing it. Pulling it apart and reassembling it in ‘A Chimerical Bombination In 12 Bursts’. And by blending straight rock n roll with indie inflections, electronic accents and lots and lots of hardcore, The Shape of Punk To Come was a bonafide instant classic.
That’s a hard act to follow and, perhaps rightly, they didn’t try. Refused broke up and left Shape upon their world as the band’s swan song, proclaiming resolutely that ‘The Refused Are F*cking Dead’ to all who would listen.
Well, the Refused are no longer dead. They have risen. They have reappeared. The Refused are f*cking alive. And the proof is their new album, the first in 17 years(!), the aptly titled Freedom.
Refused fans would be right to be both skeptical and excited about a new offering of Refused tunes. On the one hand, the band has been inactive for a long, long time. On the other, they never really died. Even as early as the early naughties, they took the occasional live offer, played the occasional festival. But those appearances were few and far between and for a while there it looked like the closest the world would ever get to a new Refused record was a new The International Noise Conspiracy record.
Still, I think it would go without saying that for a band with a fanbase as rabid as that of Refused’s, it would be better to stay dead than to come back and deliver something mediocre or uninspired.
Freedom starts off with the song ‘Elektra’. ‘Elektra’ is a razor sharp punk rock song. A song in which singer Dennis Lyxzen seems intent on informing the listening public that the song remains the same, so to speak, proclaiming in his very recognizable yell that ‘nothing has changed’. He actually isn’t singing about the band at all, but the double meaning will be lost on no one.
‘Old Friends/New War’ follows and it is probably the most inventive song on the record. A song that changes shape and plays with its sound every few seconds. There are a lot of ideas and sounds in ‘Old Friends’ and most of them work. It’s the Refused song on this album that sounds most like the Refused on Shape.
‘Dawkins Christ’ is a dark, heavy stomper that takes aim at organized religion in the most effective and in your face way since Nine Inch Nails told us that God is dead in ‘Heresy’ way back in ’94 on Downward Spiral. And, in fact, the two songs have more than a passing musical resemblance.
‘Francafrique’ is the catchiest song on the record and is my personal favourite. It sounds like The Hives mixed with, well, with the Refused. It’s a fun, easy ripper with very serious genocidal themes.
‘Thought Is Blood’ is another Shape styled thumper. Think ‘Refused Party Program’. ‘War On The Palaces’ is another favourite of mine. It’s another catchy toe tapper and probably won’t do much for people who are fans of Refused’s harder material.
‘Destroy The Man’ and ‘366’ are two more heavy hitters, while ‘Servants of Death’ is another experimental kitchen sink rocker.
And ‘Useless Europeans’ is a six and a half minute crooner that works its slow burn very effectively. A great way to end the album.
And the end of the day, what people want to know is, is this the Refused we know and love, or have they sullied the name of the band by serving up something subpar?
Well, while I can’t say it will be as effective or influential as their last record, what I can say is that Freedom is indeed the Refused we know and love. It sound like the natural next step from Shape and, most importantly, sounds timeless. The Shape of Punk To Come was way ahead of its time. It still is. And so is Freedom. There’s really nothing like this out there in the punk world right now. It may not be an instant classic, but it’s one of the best records of the year. That’s good enough for me.