Politics and rock have become oddly estranged in recent times. Bar a few loud voices out in the wilderness, that one time bastion of rebellion has grown rather comfortable over the course of the 2010s. In a time of austerity, turmoil and escalating tensions, it’s hard to see quite why such a disconnect has bloomed between much contemporary rock and time-tested four-chords-and-the-truth visions that have historically defined the style. Parquet Courts have certainly offered a change of pace from this prevailing apathy in the past. While they’ve only sporadically delivered the kind of biting social commentary that their work routinely nods towards, it’s clear that they’ve never been a band content to keep their mouths shut when it comes to the big issues.
‘Wide Awake!’ feels, in many ways, like the album which the band have always been threatening to make. It is by far and away the most vocally and overtly political record the group have ever crafted and its direct, bolshie lyrical content is inextricably linked to the album as whole – so much so that it’s impossible to assess one without the other. “Savage is my name because Savage is how I feel / when the radio wakes me up with the words ‘suspected gunman'” the band’s front man spits during the astonishingly punchy expulsion of ‘Violence’. Buried amongst line after line of tightly-packed, hard hitting verse that explodes forth like water from a broken dam, it’s a phrase that stands out for simply how much it says with so few words. It’s telling that a quote from album opener ‘Total Football’ finds itself scribbled neatly into the corner of the Savage-drawn cover art. “Q: Are you quite done now?” it asks. The answer? “A: Not at all!”
And that’s the album to a T; wilfully difficult and purposefully out to challenge the status quo in a way that rock as whole does far too infrequently now. If the 2010s have proven themselves to be the age of rap as the primary platform for social change in music, then ‘Wide Awake!’ confirms Andrew Savage as the man who’s managed to bridge the gap between that genre’s unflinching acceptance of the truth and punk’s buoyant energy. A crucial aspect of ‘Wide Awake!’s success is the fact that the concerns addressed throughout the album feel timeless and unshackled to present day 2018 life, despite being hugely relevant to them. Although it’s perhaps a leap of faith to suggest that the album will age well, the lyrical content is direct yet broad enough that, unfortunately, it will likely resonate just as much in the coming decades as it does now. Perhaps the most glorious thing about the whole album is that, aside from an exultant cry of “fuck Tom Brady” to round off ‘Total Football’, the album makes its points as well as it does without needing to rely on the crutch of name-dropping contemporary figures, which is a blessing as such naming-and-shaming is a sure-fire way to ensure that your album ages about as well as rotten food.
That’s ‘Wide Awake!’, then; hard hitting, truthful and genuinely very engaging. Or, at least, that’s the vast majority of the album. Attempting to pigeonhole Parquet Courts has always been an exercise in futility and their reluctance to conform to any one style has been a huge part of their long term appeal over the course of this decade. In the case of ‘Wide Awake!’, however, the band hit their very highest of highs when they stick closest to the belligerent indie-punk that they’re best known for. Where 2016’s excellent ‘Human Performance’ shone due to the sheer variety and eclecticism on show, ‘Wide Awake!’ impresses for wholly different reasons and when the band do deviate from the riff-based menace of songs like ‘Violence’ and ‘Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience’, results do vary somewhat. The title track was served as any early taster for the album, being released as a single two months before the record hit shelves. You certainly can’t blame the group for branching out, but, as affecting as the P-funk bassline is, the overly repetitive vocal line and general lack of musical progression mark it out as an interesting experimental rather than a wholly successful one, although it’s certainly no shambles.
Where guitarist Austin Brown contributed a veritable raft of songs to ‘Human Performance’ – a good number of which rank amongst the album’s strongest offerings – his work constitutes less of ‘Wide Awake!’s runtime by far. Out of the handful of his songs on the album, the best is ‘Back To Earth’, a dub-reggae influenced romp that sees the group experiment with a fittingly-spacey ambience topped off with generous dollops of slow delay. It’s definitely a change of pace on the album, as are his other contributions (jangly indie-rocker ‘Mardi Gras Beads’ and the ordered chaos of ‘Death Will Bring Change’). Whilst Brown’s contributions lack the bite of Savage’s, that’s actually something of a positive, as his tracks break up the album’s pacing well and bring a welcome sense of variety to what otherwise would probably be the least eclectic offering the band have yet put forth.
Those who’ve been paying attention to Parquet Court’s output over the past 8 years won’t need reminding that they’re one of this decade’s most rewarding acts. Even by their own high standards, ‘Wide Awake!’ is an almost shockingly impressive outing for the band and one that feels like a genuinely significant step forward for a band who seemingly never looks back. With lyrics as direct and uncompromising as these, ‘Wide Awake!’ earmarks the band as not only one of the 2010s’ best rock groups but also one of the most important.
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The full track listing for ‘Wide Awake!’ is as follows…
01. Total Football
03. Before the Water Gets Too High
04. Mardi Gras Beads
05. Almost Had to Start a Fight/In And Out of Patience
06. Freebird II
08. Back to Earth
09. Wide Awake
10. NYC Observation
12. Death Will Bring Change