Disposable Heroes: Refused’s “The Shape of Punk to Come”

There’s little more annoying on this planet than the immoral majority telling you how essential, transcendent and (huh-huh) seminal a particular extreme album is, when you know that it’s overrated as fuck. Hence, our new Wednesday morning column, “Disposable Heroes,” in which one brave soul sails against the current to inform all you clones why you can’t spell classic without “ass.” This week, Joe Gross refuses to move to the new beat on Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come.
13 Point Program to Destroy Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come

1. “The Nation of Ulysses were a violent separatist political party and terrorist group operating out of Washington, D.C. in the early ’90s. Though they’ve disappeared into obscurity, they’ve spawned countless milquetoast imitators who’ve tried to appropriate their looks, language, sound and presentation for the sake of career advancement.” —description of NOU on the Dischord website.

2. Now, I have no idea if whomever wrote this was thinking about Refused when he or she wrote the second sentence. But I am as I read it. Cuz damn—some shit is just too flagrant.

ref cover

3. If ripping off great bands were some sort of crime, well, Decibel would have a bunch of ambulance chaser classifieds in the back (and someone from the Dazzling Killmen be in the cooler, having bodied the guys in Dillinger Escape Plan long ago). Punk and metal—especially hardcore, especially in the past 10 or 12 years—have a strong if baffling tradition of using the phrase “TK-worship” as if it is a compliment rather than something to be snickered about or acknowledged with a polite, ashamed nod.

4. The Shape of Punk to Come might as well have had “total NOU-worship” written in block letter across the sleeve. Squirrel Bait stole less from Hüsker Dü, the Hold Steady less from Springsteen and Soul Asylum, Hatred Surge less from Napalm Death.

5. Refused went through all sorts of stages of ripping off American hardcore. Their first few albums are say tributes to, say, Youth of Today or something, a Xerox of a Xerox of Minor Threat’s steez. Later, there was a little more Born Against in there. Then someone discovered Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses.

6. What’s most annoying about The Shape of Punk to Come is the sheer level of detail they went for in copping NOU’s steeze—the quasi-revolutionary rhetoric, the long, declamatory song titles, the clean visual style lifted from Blue Note hard bop and early avant-garde jazz sleeves.

7. It was eye-rolling enough when NOU did it to Ornette Coleman and the Nation of Islam and Motown, when they called songs “The Sound of Young America” and “The Sound of Jazz to Come,” whether you think there was a smirk there or not. But seeing Refused just lift it whole-hog—from the album title to song titles like “Liberation Frequency” and the manifesto-yammering “Refused Party Program”—was both cringe- and rage-inducing. Perhaps this is what happens in a land without shame.

8. Then there’s the music.

9. Oddly, the strongest stuff, in terms of putting pieces together in a way that couldn’t be found in the Dischord catalog, might be the electronic frippery that wanders in and out of these screamers. And there’s nothing all that godawful about Dennis Lyxzén’s singing. He’s doing screamo yellin’. Whatever. (Though the MacKaye-bellow on the title track is great for a good giggle.)

10. Everything else, literally all of it, can be found elsewhere better (the bits that sound kinda like nth-wave heavy emo; consult the Old Glory or Ebullition labels from the first Clinton administration) or worse (all the drill-press nü-metal crap). The epic post-rock-y stuff is straight out of Slint and Rodan and Rachel’s. This wasn’t the shape of punk to come. It was the shape of punk right then (or six years earlier).

11. The bits that allegedly sounded like Fugazi didn’t. They sounded like a dozen other acts that sounded a lot like Jawbox. Why? Because it’s actually incredibly hard to sound like Fugazi unless you happen to have a world-beating rhythm section that can float around the beat when the spirit moves them.

12. What’s especially unfortunate about all of this is the extent to which Lyxzén did all of this A SECOND TIME with the (International) Noise Conspiracy, which might as well have been a Make-Up tribute act. Once is bad enough, a second time is just fucking rude.

13. Refused are fucking dead, but they were born that way.