Note: We think it is a good idea to review old albums in addition to new ones. Music isn’t fast food; some of it is meant to last.
Rated by Spin Magazine the 29th best album from 1985-2005 (behind albums by Oasis, Pavement, the Pixies, Wu Tang, Liz Phair and U2, to name a few, but ahead of The Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction), Fugazi’s 13 Songs (1989) is by far the band’s best album. Problematically enough (for those who care about albums), it is not even originally an album at all but instead the combination of two EPs.
The album consists of, appropriately, 13 pop-length songs (averaging under three minutes each). The energy, focus and style of almost any track on the album would best most tracks on the rest of Fugazi’s releases, if you prefer your hardcore to come in short melodic songs with beginnings, middles and ends. Perhaps more importantly, the music and its messages represent the best of what Fugazi has to offer.
The sixth song, “Suggestion”, is the heart of the album musically and ethically. If any Fugazi song could have been a popular single in the 90’s, it is this one. The chaotic guitars start out searching for a riff, anchored by the rolling rhythm of the bass and drums. The song’s title appears in the first line: “Why can’t I walk down the street free of suggestion?” The later “Is my body the only trait in the eyes of man”, at home in the overall song, seems as if it could have inspired the conversation that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt have on the bus in Fight Club when they point to a picture of a man with a six-pack and ask whether this is what a man looks like.
Indeed, social and capitalistic pressures on the definition of masculinity, the central idea of the song, features in the bridge-crescendo (“Suffer your interpretation of what it is….to be a man”). The song ends with something of a whimper (though not a whine) as the topic shifts to a female character, undone and victimized herself by the pressures and expectations of masculinity. The balance of personal reflection and social commentary over now dissonant and then melodic sound is essential what makes Fugazi unique.
From the first track, in fact, 13 Songs is exceptional. The opening bass line and sharp drum hits of “Waiting” preface nearly poetic lines (“I am a patient boy/ I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait / My time is water down a drain”). The vocals of the two singers (Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto) nicely contrast one another—the clarity of vocals on the first track is nicely offset by the more gravelly verses of “Bulldog Front”.