I’ve got a bone to pick with Refused, you guys.
No, the problem isn’t that they’re fucking around with hardcore’s aural boundaries and making something arty, adding electronic flourishes and jazzy breakdowns. As a lifelong hardcore fan, I’m perfectly fine with the idea of throwing out the rule book and dicking around with the format a little. There are currently other people doing the same thing, and doing it much better (wazzap Slices).
The problem is simple: their music has not aged well at all. Listening back, it’s easy to hear why we all went crazy for the chugging guitars and giant choruses. That aggressive shit is addictive and fun (then again, so was rap-metal for one junior high summer). Pair that with PoliSci 101 lyrics that rail against capitalism, and you’ve got yourself a nice, slightly more punk alternative to Rage Against the Machine.
But the reality is that even Zack de la Rocha’s dreadlocked squawk has stood the test of time better than Refused, whose groove-laden punk today sounds a lot more like the trailer park work-out jams of Disturbed or the wacky Skrillex/Korn collaboration than their self-proclaimed “shape of punk to come.”
Then there’s the troublesome nature of that statement — calling their breakthrough album The Shape of Punk to Come back in 1998 was an uncomfortably arrogant declaration, particularly when you consider that the most forward-thinking “punk” aspects of the record were directly lifted from their superior post-hardcore precursors in the Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi and the entire Ebullition catalogue. Google the cover for Rye Coalition’s Teenage Dance Session EP and you’ll see another example of how The Shape of Punk to Come was shaped.
Lyrically, Refused were about as politically razor-sharp as an Adbusters coffee table book, waxing bullshit about the Situationist movement and railing against capitalism while sandwiched between the Voodoo Glow Skulls and Pennywise on their label’s Punk-O-Rama compilations.
And now, their rants have resulted in the ongoing payday of a reunion tour. First, they played countless free concerts to rally support for the Occupy Movement. Oh wait, no they didn’t. Instead they made their debut on the stage of the Urban Outfitters employee retreat that is Coachella. Then they played on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and now a North American tour. For five dudes who really hate capitalism, they sure are raking in the capital.
Maybe Refused were important to you in high school, in which case you should go to MacEwan Hall on Friday, August 24 and do some “moshing,” fist-pump from the beer garden and buy a T-shirt. Do whatever makes you feel good — I did the same thing when Blink 182 came here on their reunion tour.
Just don’t pretend that you’re participating in anything bigger, or more important, than an evening of angsty, dorky nostalgia.