Surprise is a rare and wonderful thing, especially in the music world. The formula for songwriting success was perfected decades ago. Since the existence of managers, musicians have had someone hovering over their shoulder whispering suggestions about fanbase expectations and brand and image. How a band should sound and look and act is all part of the “perfection” of the music machine. But, every now and then, maybe once in a generation, a band comes along and says no. Artists like Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Gang of Four, Pixies, Deftones, Sigur Ros, The Polyphonic Spree, all knew the game, they knew the stakes, and they chose to forge their own paths. Toronto’s Fucked Up has been toying with the boundaries of punk music since 2001 but with their latest release, Dose Your Dreams, they stretch further and force us to ask what it even means to be a band.
Make no mistake, Dose Your Dreams, is an excellent record, intellectual and razor-sharp, crafted by an incredible group of musicians, but is it really an album released by a band? While Fucked Up was no stranger to guest appearances on their previous albums, on Dose Your Dreams, nearly every song features a new voice or style for a new character or emotion. On a number of their long-running Zodiac series releases, Fucked Up had waded into the waters of prog-rock but on Dose Your Dreams the band smashes out punk anthems, pumps out dance music, and narrates a story. Dose Your Dreams is less an album by a band as it is an Original Motion Picture Soundtrack…and I mean this in the best possible way.
You see, in 2018, legitimate rock music really isn’t a thing anymore. There are flashes here and there that recall some of the danger and excitement that used to come with rock’n’roll but, mostly, it is merely adequate musicians playing songs written by a committee, designed to not bother the greatest amount of people possible. Over the years, this has diminished the idea of a “band.” Imagine Dragons, for example, has charted roughly 75 hit singles since 2015 and many of them sound like they were written by totally different bands. There is nothing wrong with that per se but when you hear Imagine Dragons on your radio you think, “Oh, this is a nice song.” You don’t think of the band or the lead singer or the rumours about their impending break-up or anything, you only think of, well, nothing, and find yourself repeating the words lightning and thunder for three minutes.
Fucked Up achieves something truly remarkable with Dose Your Dreams; over the course of an album, they sound like many different bands but they manage to do so while keeping the same soul running through the heart of each song. A project like Dose Your Dreams could easily sound disjointed and non-cohesive but somehow, at the end of the album, you feel like you have actually gone on a journey with a multitude of people, had a number of wildly different conversations, and remained perpetually excited for nearly 90 minutes.
Fucked Up has always been somewhat unpredictable which is probably why 2014’s Glass Boys seemed like a bit of a letdown due to how straight-forward it was(on that note, when a band is saddled with lofty expectations, even those letdown albums turn out to be fantastic when revisited a few years later – please see Titus Andronicus’ Local Business as a reference). Unpredictability was already a calling card for the band yet Dose You Dreams still feels surprisingly ambitious. If this write-up is starting to sound like it’s going in circles, that’s because it is. You simply cannot understand just how shocking an album like this is. I can’t explain it. There is no attempt to achieve a unifying sound, no attempt to sound like a marketable band, no attempt to create even the idea of an image. Dose Your Dreams exists solely to tell a story and the group of musicians who made it come to life played their parts with zero ego. Ego doesn’t permit an album like Dose Your Dreams to exist because there is no recognition, there is no glory, no fame, no band…there is only the idea of this album and its story.
Fucked Up, as a band, created a masterpiece. And they did it by not caring about the band. It’s surprising and invigorating and if even a small handful of bands get inspired by this album the same way a number of bands were inspired by Zappa or Pixies, I think our musical future just got a lot more exciting.