Fugazi - Repeater - Review
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critics' view

By the time The Beatles released Revolver in 1966, they were the biggest band in the world. The album came at the end of their touring career and pushed the possibilities of studio recording. At the time, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr saw themselves not only above competition from contemporaries like the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones, but in competition with each other. There are still arguments about who contributed what part to each song and are as much a part of the pathos that surround the album as the songs themselves.

Revolver is hailed by many music critics as a redefining of what rock ‘n’ roll could be, an LSD fueled exploration of psychedelia, and a cultural touchstone of Swinging London that sought transcendence from materialism and consumerism. Perhaps, there are nuggets of truth in all this, but the most radical thing Revolver did was inspire an album title almost 25 years later. That album was Fugazi’s Repeater.

While the Fab Four wrote Revolver with an eye towards the trappings of success and mind expansion, it is, in many ways, limited in imagination by those very things. The innovation found in the studio manipulation of sounds heard on the record were only afforded to the band because of their commercial success and does not extend to the lyrical content of the album. One could ask how such a supposed thought provoking album opened up with a song about not making enough profit?

In fact, shortly after the release of Revolver, the Beatles set up Apple Corps as a way maximize their profit with Lennon stating, “Our accountant came up and said 'We got this amount of money. Do you want to give it to the government or do something with it?' So we decided to play businessmen for a bit because we've got to run our own affairs now. So we've got this thing called 'Apple' which is going to be records, films, and electronics – which all tie up." This was not transcending the commodification of art. It was the personification of it neatly packaged with The Beatles’ brand.

The mind altered ruminations in the lyrics throughout Revolver show a band obsessed with self. Whether it’s McCartney using a metaphor for drugs as a relationship in “Got To Get You Into My Life,” or Lennon asking not to be bothered with the world’s problems that were miles away in an LSD-fueled dream in “I’m Only Sleeping,” this was a mind-altered state focused on the personal, not the political. All of this was the polar opposite of Fugazi’s Repeater.

For people who’ve studied the intersection of radical politics and straight-edge, of which Minor Threat and Ian MacKaye were credited with being at the forefront, abstaining from alcohol and drugs was a rejection of the type of rebellion capitalism permitted. It was an understanding of why alcohol and tobacco companies often target marginalized communities with predatory advertising practices. This was and is damaging for revolutionary thought. When MacKaye sang, “at least I can fucking think,” in “Out Of Step,” it was a declaration of that. These lyrics foreshadowed the 1991 post-hardcore masterpiece Repeater.

Repeater was a mission statement album. It’s an album that redefined what punk rock and hardcore could be yet existed on a plain of its own. It would be hard to find comparisons to the sounds on Repeater because the album was the starting point for many less abled post-hardcore bands. It was the original. Repeater served as the blueprint for Fugazi’s 15-year run. Songs from Repeater would go on to populate Fugazi’s live sets throughout their existence. This was a testament to the quality of the songs, but more accurately, an important feature of how relevant and immediate the songs remained. Despite Repeater being recorded over 25 years ago, it still sounds fresh today. The instrumentation had the band firing on all cylinders and truly found innovation in the discordant aspects of the players.

Throughout Repeater, it felt Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye played entirely different guitar parts with no sense of cohesion. Their staccato and angular riffs somehow allowed melody and discord to coexist. Short bursts of rhythm centric riffs stopped on a dime, turned into a distorted mess of feedback, just to come out the other end in trails of melody. “Greed” showed this mix at work. Picciotto and MacKaye split vocal duties on Repeater and their voices worked extremely well together throughout the album. They provided the blueprint many later-era dual-vocalist bands have used to get famous off of. “Sieve-Fisted Find” had Picciotto on agitated lead vocals while MacKaye added in melodic underparts. Both channeled anger and melody in execution of rage.

The cohesion in this was bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty. Often times, Lally’s bass provided the most memorable melodies for Fugazi. His ability to find alternate melodies underneath guitars that spun off in different directions put the bass guitar at the center Repeater. This wouldn’t have been possible without Canty’s drums and the full use of his kit. He fit in tom-tom fills and cymbal splashes in places that had little daylight. The drums and bass existed not just to provide backing and low end for the songs, but to drive and add additional values to them. All of this was perfected in the centerpiece of the album, and the best 7-minutes in Fugazi’s recorded output, in the back to back of “Merchandise” and “Blueprint.”

It would be enough to call this album a punk rock classic in just the musical compositions it offered. However, it was truly the lyrics that cannot be overstated as to the endurance and importance of Repeater and where any comparison to the packaged rebellion Revolver offered was left at the door. In album opener “Turnover,” Picciotto recalled the previously mentioned “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles. While Lennon wouldn’t be bothered with waking for problems of the world, Picciotto felt society’s violence all around, even in his sleep - be it through gun violence that repeaters, a slang term for weapons that fired many times, caused in D.C. or the violence capitalism inflicts on all of us. The MacKaye led “Repeater” turned the term on its head singing “once upon a time / I had a name and a way / but to you / I’m nothing but a number / 1-2-3 repeater.”

The most iconic lyric on Repeater came from “Merchandise.” In six simple words, MacKaye laid out Fugazi’s ethos with “you are not what you own.” While the song itself was about the nature of art and commercialism, it was as much a mission statement for the band as anything else in their canon. The problems sung about in 1991 are still the same systemic problems we face today. Album closer “Shut The Door” discussed heroin, escapism, and shame found in pushing off alone. It’s as relevant today as it was in 1991.

The title of Repeater came to Fugazi as a play on The Beatles’ Revolver. Many associated the cultural revolution that came about in the 1960s with The Beatles’ album. It defined and provided soundtrack to the baby-boomer generation discovery of peace and free love. If that was truly the case, the self-obsessed escapism and profit The Beatles concerned themselves with on Revovler is pretty indicative of today’s political culture. Some revolution. Repeater is the true revolution and understood collective struggle is forever. That is why this album is classic and timeless. It, and the players on the album, understood systems of capitalism, racism, and sexism are intertwined and could not exist without each other. Until we all have liberation, none of us have it. This is what the revolution truly was and is about. We are not what we own.

Eric Rosso
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