I will forego an introduction to who Fugazi are and what they have accomplished in their eighteen year-long career. If you don’t know them, you should. If you are interested in learning, a quick search on Google should provide you with more than enough information. I’ll leave it at that.
Red Medicine is an album of transition. This is a band finding that they have grown as much as they possibly could inside of one genre and begin to wander outside of it into the stormier waters of experimental noise while simultaneously attacking the multi-headed beast known as pop. The grandfathers of post-hardcore are starting to get a bit older here and the lyrics and musicianship show that they are beginning to feel the effects. From the noisy intro of “Do You Like Me?” to the slowly unraveling guitar work at the end of “Long Distance Runner,” this is Fugazi trying to bridge the gap between hardcore and just about every other kind of rock music. They largely succeed.
The musicianship on display here is absolutely phenomenal. Guy and Ian show that they are just as proficient with more subdued guitar playing as they are with the recklessly noisy kind. Joe’s bass gives almost every song a groove that you just can’t help but move to. Brendan’s drumming continues to be a work of precision art, never succumbing to the temptation to abandon rhythm for flash. All of this is topped by some of the band's most interesting lyrics. Part stream of conciousness, part political rant, lines like "Your eyes / like crashing jets / fixed in stained glass / but not religious" (“Do You Like Me?”), and, "It’s cold outside and my hands are dry / skin is cracked and I realize / that I hate the sound of guitars / a thousand grudging young millionaires" ("Target") are always delivered with passion and style to spare. Guy’s sometimes creepy, sometimes vaguely effiminate singing is the perfect counter to Ian’s gruffer talking and shouting. Bassist Joe Lally even steps up to the mic for the excellent “By You."
The only faults I can really find with this album are the sequencing and the song “Version.” I’m sure this track was very fun to record, but it is not very fun to listen to after the first time. I almost always skip it. The song is just three-and-a-half minutes of noise punctuated by violent blasts of what sounds like a saxophone. The sequencing also puts all the aggressive tracks at the beginning and end, leaving all the more ambient pieces in the middle. These are only small qualms with a particularly intriguing album though. Red Medicine has a lot to offer. The entire album is pervaded with a sense of uncertainty, and on some songs, such as “Forensic Scene” and “By You,” it even gets a bit creepy. When all is said and done, this is one of my favorite Fugazi albums and I highly recommend it.