The use of gimmicks in music is always controversial. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either part of the -art’ of music, or a marketing trick designed simply to bring a band a level of attention that its music might not otherwise warrant. With Slipknot it was masks, while with Forward Russia, naming all the tracks as random numbers drew in a curious cult fan base. With Fucked Up, its an obsession with fascism, a name that’s no doubt deliberately unprintable in mainstream media, and the insistence on naming members of the bands things like -Concentration Camp’ and -Mustard Gas’. A gimmick, incidentally, that fits in perfectly with the purposefully controversial punk-rock fashion of wearing green shirts with German flags on the arm.
Let’s not nit-pick and point out that fascism has no obvious modern relevance (or not, at least, to a band from Toronto), as it’s probably a good thing Fucked Up do have such a fixation. It’s a serious challenge to pick out enough lyrics to work out whether Fucked Up are in favor or opposed to the ideology they love to preach about, but it doesn’t seem too important: inserted into the music itself, Fucked Up’s fascist commentary provides some genuinely interesting moments of musical oddity. The haunting melody at the start of -Generation’ and occasional samples of speeches about the likes of Franco are the only parts of Couple Tracks that see the six-piece step away from a repetitive, thrashy hardcore sound and drop their quickly grating vocal growl.
Hardcore’s not known for its subtly, of course, but it’s the lack of variety that really slays this album as a creative entity. While for two or three tracks it’s an eminently listenable (if vicious) proposition, by the back end of the first of the two discs the songs have long since blended into one long dirge. There are 25 tracks to get through in all, apparently including both hit singles and rarities, though both take on similar sounds and formats, and interest wanes well before the end. For all Fucked Up’s rock and roll posturing and occasional forays into the more tuneful and edgy regions of hardcore, Couple Tracks is frankly a chore to listen to, and – if it wasn’t for the historical twists in the form of speeches and horror movie melodies – wouldn’t sound too different if the same track was looped twenty five times. In this case, it seems, the gimmick was absolutely essential.