Forget Johnny Rotten sneering “No future” – Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham shouting “I don’t wanna live in this fucking world for one minute more” is the nihilistic punk slogan that’s right for our times. California is turning into smoke and fire, fascists are on the rise all over the world, arctic ice is melting into a sea that’s slowly turning into a poison soup of plastics, oil, and acid – we’re closer to Fucked Up’s “no present” than we are to the Pistols’ “No future.” For them, dystopia was a black spot on the horizon, an oncoming train twisting around a far-off bend. For anyone listening to Fucked Up’s Dose Your Dreams in 2018, there are days where that black spot is the whole horizon, where the train is hurtling so close we can see our breath fogging up the conductor’s windshield.
You’d expect that an album with a lyric like that would be an unremittingly bleak affair, but Fucked Up’s Dose Your Dreams isn’t a sad wallow in hopelessness. It’s a deeply urgent, often beautiful, and furious record.
Fucked Up have never been hardcore traditionalists. Even as far back as 2006’s Hidden World, they were incorporating string arrangements into their molten blasts of larynx-shredding punk. Saxophones, ambient interludes, psychedelia, pastoral flute music, dance beats, concept albums: The Toronto band have played with just about every “indulgent rock band” trope imaginable without it compromising their sound. Dose Your Dreams takes that kitchen-sink approach to a glorious extreme.
Like many of their previous efforts, Dose Your Dreams is a concept album. Bringing back the protagonist of 2011’s David Comes to Life, Dose Your Dreams re-imagines light bulb factory worker David Eliade as a bored white-collar office drone who fills his heart “with warm dreams of prosperity.” Quitting his job on opening track “None of Your Business Man," which begins with a gorgeous arpeggiated piano and ethereal female vocals before transforming it into a classic Fucked Up shredder, David meets a mystic homeless woman who reveals that reality is an illusion, plunging him into a weird new realm of being. It’s reminiscent of the early issues of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, where a shithead punk gets his third eye opened and sees the world as it is thanks to an occultist bum. And like that seminal Morrison comic book, Dose Your Dreams uses that “man initiated into a higher reality” story as a launchpad to explore all kinds of crazy vistas and experiences.
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While the album has its share of conventional rockers, Dose Your Dreams reveals new facets to the band’s sound. On “How to Die Happy,” the band uses dreamy shoegaze guitars and female vocals (courtesy of You’ll Never Get To Heaven singer Alice Hansen) to make a song that would sound right at home on Loveless. "Two I's Closed" plays with Panda Bear-style vocals and atmospherics, while "The One I Want Will Come for Me" has the band going full-on Dinosaur Jr. with understated vocals and anthemic guitars, with the band's Dino Jr love made even more explicit when J. Mascis pops up towards the end of Dose Your Dreams as a guest singer. They even embrace industrial sounds on “Mechanical Bull” and “Accelerate,” revealing a knack for Reznor-esque vocals and dry Wax Trax! Beats.
Just like damn near every concept album in existence, the story on Dose Your Dreams is hard to follow. But the emotional undercurrent of the record, its guiding spirit, is what makes the album hit so hard. It’s the story of someone realizing that they’re wasting their life and are desperate to make their dreams come true while they still can. In the face of a bleak present, David Eliade struggles to make his future into something glorious.
Considering how shitty our world is right now, it’s genuinely heartening to hear an album remind you that sometimes you can turn shit into gold. That’s why Fucked Up are so good at what they do: They’re not songwriters so much as they are alchemists. But they don’t work with lead or elixirs—The thing they’re trying to transmutate is you.