Fucked Up’s fourth album Glass Boys could be described as a back-to-basics move. But honestly, in lieu of making another rock opera, how could Glass Boys be anything but “basic” in relation to 2011′s landmark David Comes to Life? Weighing in at just 10 songs and 42 minutes, without a unifying concept connecting the tracks, Glass Boys is the work of a band taking a break from pushing boundaries in order to reaffirm a familiar identity. This identity is centralized in the push-pull tension between lead singer Damian Abraham and guitarist Mike Haliechuk. On David, Abraham grounded the grandiosity of Haliechuk’s six-string symphonies with his hoarse but empathetic bark, creating a unique arena rock/basement show equilibrium. On Boys, Haliechuk has scaled back his “wall of sound” ambitions, and with Abraham’s throat sounding more charred than ever, the final result is surprisingly stunted for a Fucked Up record.
Did I say there’s no unifying theme on Glass Boys? That’s not totally right — like so many indie-rock albums lately, Boys reflects on the aging process, a self-aware acknowledgement that Fucked Up can no longer play the flinty upstart (flinty moniker notwithstanding). The record is positively autumnal: “Sing these songs and we will never die,” Abraham wishes in “Touch Stone.” On the melancholy title track, the 32-year-old Abraham ruminates wearily like Time Out of Mind-era Bob Dylan: “I was the source, now I’m the decay/ I was wild like a wave, now I’m fixed into place.”
As always, Abraham’s ranting is set against a backdrop of beautifully surging riffs designed by chief musical architect Haliechuk — the instrumental open to “The Art of Patrons” is as majestic as a Robert John “Mutt” Lange production. What a shame that Boys is restrained at times by the limitations of Abraham’s voice. If David finally liberated Fucked Up from any remaining shreds of “hardcore” baggage, Glass Boys is curiously unadventurous about exploring the full possibilities of the band’s cavernous sound. Aside from the psychedelic organ and trippy fuzz guitar wafting through “Warm Change,” much of Glass Boys is given over to rather mundane punk-rock bombast. Considering how Fucked Up’s previous records seemed committed to transcending mundane punk, this can’t help but feel like a retreat.