Fugazi - Red Medicine (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Red Medicine (1995)


When you like punk rock, Fugazi is one of the bands you’re pretty much required to listen to. But, I would argue anyone who enjoys rock music, should like Fugazi. They successfully combined elements of punk, hard rock, noise, reggae/dub, and hardcore seamlessly. One could also point to their tireless work ethic, and the fact they frequently put their ethics before the chance to cash in on the punk and alternative rock boom of the early 90’s. One could also make a case for them being the most underappreciated band of the 90’s, if for no other reason than they didn’t achieve the chart success their contemporaries did.

By 1995, Fugazi was almost a decade into their careers and had been in their element for almost the entirety of that time. With the release of Red Medicine, everything came together. The songwriting was at its peak, the songs were experimental but had hooks, the band self-produced after working with Ted Niceley on their last release. While they are one of the few bands I feel comfortable saying never made a bad album, I’d have no issue saying with this release they hit their peak.

Opening with discordant guitars, before the bass and drums kicked in and the song became one of the most rhythmically driven songs on the album. Like many of Brendan Canty’s song the lyrics on “Do You Like Me” are more direct than many of Ian Mackaye’s songs. The song remains a scathing look at the military industrial complex, for profit prison system, and the nature of corporate mergers. This doesn’t bode well for anything that sticks in your head, but Cany’s vocal delivery when he sang, “Lockheed Lockheed Martin Marieta” wrapped around the song’s rhythm perfectly. I can go months without even putting the album on and will find myself chanting the refrain every time I pass the Lockheed Martin offices near my home.

Of the songs Ian Mackaye sang lead vocals on, “Birthday Pony,” is the standout for me. The song took a slower more subdued approach, which utilized stops and starts with great success. Lyrically, the song seems to be about a child’s birthday present being the only real symbol of love and caring they receive from their parents. Without ever getting as aggressive as they do on other tracks on the album, the song still drives forward and succeeds at hooking you in, both vocally and musically. The genius of this song, and so many in the Fugazi catalog, is they managed this without falling into any of the patterns or trends so many bands use to create memorable moments on their albums.

The highlight of this album for me is the Canty penned and sung “Target.” While many of the bands Fugazi had shared a stage with throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s had now found a sizeable amount of success, Fugazi were by and large observers. This isn’t to say they didn’t achieve a sizable amount of success, but they achieved it on their terms. This song remains a middle finger to the bands, and more directly the record labels that did not operate on these terms. And while I don’t know of any animosity between the members of Fugazi and Jawbox, it has always struck me as interesting this song was on an album released the year after the later of the two signed to Atlantic Records. If only because their peers in the independent scene had been jumping to majors since The Replacements and Husker Did it many years beforehand, but Jawbox was the first band to grow up in Dischord House to make the same move.

The influence of this band, and album, could be heard on any number of bands releases in the years to come. From At the Drive In, Cursive, Circle Takes the Square, The Refused and any other band whose sound featured variations in dynamics, rhythms, and tempos. Fugazi also had an influence on bands that followed in their wake that not many bands do, and that is a cultural one. While many of the punk bands of the early 90’s presented themselves as Maximum Rock n Roll DIY or Die champions early in their careers, they would abandon those ethics later when new opportunities began to present themselves. Fugazi never did this, and while there have been numerous rumors of high dollar offers to reunite for any number of summer festivals, they have turned them all down thus far; something I don’t see any potential for changing in the near or distant future. They were the, perhaps, the most quintessential punk band of all time. They never played by anyone’s rules but their own, Ian Mackaye to this day speaks to the power of not being afraid to say no, and while they are all still active in the music industry they never used the band’s name to release material for the sake of making money off their fans. They were the punk band’s punk band, and on Red Medicine they turned in another performance worthy of being compared to any of punk’s greatest albums.