Party Harder Program

Dance to all the right songs on Refused’s out-of-nowhere comeback

dB Rating: 9/10

Release Date: June 16th, 2015
Label: Epitaph

People were approaching us saying, ‘You’re not making new music, are you?’ Like it wasn’t our prerogative if that’s what we felt like doing. Nobody wanted us to fuck with the image of the band who makes a great album and splits up. Nobody wanted us to dilute it. That actually provoked us. — Refused drummer David Sandström

So. Maybe we should not be too surprised that aggressively contrarian responses to real or imagined affronts would serve as a prime motivating force for a musical entity christened Refused, but at the same time… fucking hell, bro. Most bands would strangle a stranger for the opportunity to be similarly provoked.

Consider: an ever-strengthening, never-cresting wave of adoration for the band’s 1998 swansong, The Shape of Punk to Come—including a 2011 mass freakout when cryptic advertising for an upcoming Shape reissue convinced fans a reformation was nigh and spawned approximately a billion Refused Aren’t (Fucking) Dead? headlines. A 2012 cash offer from Coachella that even an estranged gang of über anti-capitalists couldn’t refuse. A nine-date reunion that quickly metastasized into 82 shows after blink-of-an-eye early headlining sellouts. Another two-year hiatus full of rampant, hopeful speculation about the future of the “Refused party programme.” A second ecstatically heralded reformation. And now primo placement on prestigious festivals before heading out as the opener for Faith No More.

It seems safe to say the idea that “nobody” wanted Refused to shirk retirement and fuck with new shit is a delusional defensive crouch manifested primarily to process the weight of unrealistic expectations spawned by legacy-inflating absence. Well, three cheers for persecution complexes, ’cause Freedom, the band’s first album in 17 years, is a luminous work of bombastic-in-the-best-way brilliance that casually foments one smart, inventive sonic squall of unorthodox riffage, shouldn’t-work-but-it-does experimentation, and undeniable hooks after another. (Hilariously/subversively, the band co-wrote two tracks with Britney Spears/Taylor Swift/Maroon 5/Glee cast collaborator and fellow Swede Shellback.)

Truth be told, Shape often felt less like a coherent album than the uneven soundtrack to a middling, overcooked idea haphazardly pursued and serendipitously buoyed by perhaps the single greatest post-post-hardcore song ever. (Curious how Shape would’ve fared minus “New Noise”? Ask the closest (International) Noise Conspiracy superfan or unicorn…) Freedom, by contrast, is unencumbered by such pretense or ostentatious “evolution.” The motherfucker just flows; its stylistic heresies—horns, garage-y pop à la vocalist Dennis Lyxzen’s sublime outfit the Lost Patrol Band, flamenco strumming, funk, pitch-shifting flourishes, electronica— elemental to a true idiosyncratic vision, not incidental dalliances. And in shedding the preening lyrical cartoonishness and musical contrivances that dogged Shape, Refused reconnect to the pure soul and heaviness of the seriously underappreciated Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent (1996) while at last actualizing and validating the expansive not-quite-there musical aspirations of yore.

Such a triumph sounds improbable, sure. But, then, so did the idea that a band could become legend by swinging off Nation of Ulysses’ jock back in ’98.

— Shawn Macomber
Review originally printed in the July 2015 issue (#129).