Fugazi - The Argument (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


The Argument (2001)


It wasn’t intended as their last album, but Fugazi’s seventh album The Argument is mostl likely their swan song. The Dischord Records site still has “indefinite hiatus” tacked on the end of their bio, and while they’ve released First Demo and some old live recordings, we all know that we won’t hear another new Fugazi album and it’s probably for the best. The Argument is Fugazi going out at the top of their game. Not many bands manage to make their final album their greatest album.

A short untitled track of musique concréte starts the album, and then track two, “Cashout,” sets the stage for the rest of The Argument. A squeak of fret noise is followed by the inventive snare-rim-riding sixteenth notes and off-beat hi-hat and tambourine of Brendan Canty which gets the groove in full effect. Ian MacKaye rallies against the gentrification of their neighborhoods in their hometown of Washington DC on top of the chill sonic vibe, which slowly opens like a flower into fuzzy crunchy chords and yelling. “This little piggy went to market / So they’re kickin’ out everyone.” and later “Everybody wants somewhere.” Perfection.

“Full Disclosure” is a smorgasbord of rock and roll delights, featuring a little taste of every direction the band has gone in their career, all crammed into one song. It transitions from dissonant and wonderfully grating Sonic Youth-style guitars with Guy Picciotto coming at you hard, then suddenly yet smoothly it shifts to near-indie pop moments with sweet backup harmonies, and then it transitions to one final part with fuzzed-out guitar that sounds like Repeater-era Fugazi or even Rites of Spring.

“Epic Problems” is not only my favorite song on this album, it’s my favorite song in all of Fugazi’s discography. A great band can write lyrics that people relate to in ways that the songwriter might not have intended by utilizing universal themes. Beginning with MacKaye quite literally sending a telegram, punctuating nearly every line with “Stop.” As the song progresses into its second half, MacKaye sings, over a fucking killer chord progression complete with time-signature-shifting turnarounds, “I’ve got this epic problem / This epic problem’s not a problem for me / And inside I know I’m broken / But I’m working as far as you can see” and then ”And outside, it’s all production / It’s all an illusion, set scenery”. This may not be what he is actually singing about, but to me this song is about dealing with mental illness. As someone who struggles with depression nearly every year, having to put on a production when around friends and family, having to set the scenery and act like everything is “ok” is a very real scenario to me. This song connects with me like no other song in Fugazi’s discography. Plus, it just fuckin’ rips.

“The Kill” emits a Modest Mouse vibe right from the start with its chill walking-paced groove complete with shaker, with whammied guitar harmonics floating overtop. MacKaye’s vocals are at their most restrained, and then they show you that they can even make a whistling section cool. “The Kill” eases right into “Strangelight,” one of Picciotto’s more restrained songs in that it takes a full minute and a half to get loud. “Oh” starts with a big Who-esque open chord and cymbal crash, but that’s just a diversion as lay in to perhaps the most “emo” song on the album, and I put quotes around that because I must stress that this is the good kind of emo, not a Taking Back Sunday song but more akin to a nice crunchy Braid groove. It’s got interesting drums with off-beat hi-hat accents and fills in odd places, and the two guitars and the bass that weave in and out of each other, each member equally carrying the musical load.

Track 9, “Ex-Spectator” shows the genius of Brendan Canty as a drummer. “Ex-Spectator” has two full drum kit tracks on the song, and the intro showcases the duet between Canty and Fugazi roadie/percussionist/horn player Jerry Busher (most known for his late 80s band Fidelity Jones) trading snare accents back and forth between the speakers. If you’ve never listened to this song on a good pair of headphones, do it, stat. I mustn't forget Joe Lally’s bass feature at the breakdown, or the way the guitar parts separate and merge and separate again. This song is Fugazi showing off musically without sounding like they’re showing off.

Near the end of the album we get “Nightshop,” which halfway through presents another of my favorite parts of the album when the band kicks it up a bit quicker when the aggressively-strummed acoustic guitars take the lead, and handclaps complete the scene. Then, capping the ending, the seemingly calm title track glides along with MacKaye singing ”Here comes the argument / Here comes the argument” until finally bashing you in the eardrums with thundering drums and wailing guitar leads to complete the album.

In an A.V. Club interview from 2011, bassist Joe Lally said, "The Argument was a great record that we should try and top. It’ll take some time to come together and everything. To do that, we’d have to, the way the four of us are, we would take quite some time, I think, re-associating ourselves musically, and then just letting it come about naturally, because it would have to be a natural thing. So we’ll just see.” Sooooo who knows? How great would that be? Could they top The Argument? It would be a momentous feat to do that, and while I don’t doubt they could do that, I do doubt that they’d even give it a try due to familial circumstances. Maybe it will happen in my dreams...