Fugazi’s previous albums, Red Medicine (1995) and End Hits (1998) maintained a sort of holding pattern. While relatively experimental, they were also somewhat predictable. There were the dubby excursions, the quiet art-rock, the tricky rhythms, the obtuse lyrics and the occasional explosive screams and crunching chords. Reviewers didn’t have much to say about them other than, this is Fugazi, they’re original, and they’re good. But it’s been a while since they really grabbed you by the heart with the urgency of “The Waiting Room,” “Turnover” or “Face Squared.” Tortoise-inspired jazzy noodling was refreshing back in ’94-’96, but it’s still good to be electrified.
One would never expect Fugazi’s latest, The Argument to be chock full of fist-shaking anthems, but it is certainly their most cohesively satisfying since 1993’s In On The Kill Taker. It is also their most lush, exemplified by the airy production, and use of piano and cello on the “Strangelight.” Full Disclosure” and “Life And Limb” even feature breathy “oooing” female backing vocals. Not to say Fugazi have gone orchestral pop on us. There are plenty of jagged guitars, both noisy and clean. The chorus with a sing-songy guitar line on “Full Disclosure” is cut short by a shrieking guitar siren that Public Enemy would have swapped their clocks for to sample back in the day. There are also more melodic moments, such as the sing-a-long chorus of “Full Disclosure,” and the almost folky refrain at the end of “Epic Problem.” “The Bill” is nearly lilting, with a mournful guitar line that recalls a similar moment from Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. The result is one of the most hauntingly unique songs in Fugazi’s oeuvre. “Strangelight” begins quietly, with Guy Picciotto’s vocals soft yet menacing, building into a charging, flaming dragon of a song with spiraling guitars as sharp as scales. On “Ex-Spectator,” Ian Mackaye unleashes the fury of his powerful voice in a riveting revisit to the Fugazi sound of twelve years ago. “Nightshop” is another pleasant surprise, with a chorus accompanied by an acoustic guitar that could almost be compared to Led Zeppelin.
The album closes with the fascinating “Argument,” where Mackaye sings tunefully and restrained to a spare, Slint-like rhythm. The song all-too-briefly segues into a tasty patch of electronica before concluding in crashing chaos. One can’t help wanting more, perhaps one last slashing barnburner. That can be found on the simultaneously released EP featuring the blistering “Furniture” that recalls Shellac’s early singles; the viciously rocking instrumental “Number 5” and the hardcore fury of “Hello Morning.” Fiercely independent, prickly, iconoclastic, Fugazi is not a band that comes off as eager to please. But they never fail to inspire and impress.