"This country was built by complainers, wasn't it?" Mike Watt asked in the liner notes to the Minutemen's classic Ballot Result, and he was right. America has been shaped more by dissatisfied men and women who sought to change what they saw as injustice, inequality or just plain wrong than by people who toed the line or fought to maintain the status quo. This is why Fugazi's new album, The Argument, is apropos of everything.
Fugazi have been complaining about America since their inception. They're mad about big business, big government, rampant consumerism and the village idiot's becoming king. Many of these ideas have been off-limits since Sept. 11, but the group has never played by the rules of business or decorum. "I'm on a mission to never agree," Ian MacKaye sings on the title track, reaffirming the contentious nature of Fugazi, punk and the soul of America.
While the wealthy socialists of the music industry banded together to lip-synch, commodify and degrade the intent of Marvin Gaye's single "What's Going On?", Fugazi was busy crafting the spiritual and musical heir to the album of the same name. The Argument is fraught with the same concern, fear, anger, hope, passion and poetry as Gaye's masterpiece; Fugazi have not merely restated the original, they have answered Gaye and raised questions of their own. That distinction makes The Argument the first great soul album of the new century. The sting and crackle of Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto's guitars may be punk, but the rhythm section is the pure swing 'n' groove of the finest soul music. Joe Lally's bass rolls and rumbles through "The Kill" with the dub power of Aston Barrett. He hard-charges through "Epic Problem" with the precise elegance of Donald Dunn. Lally even nods to the ever quotable Mr. Watt while jerking out surf-funk power plucks on "Life and Limb." Brendan Canty mans the battery with the same tensile strength, cracking out backbone rhythms and slow-tempo frames that never confuse anger with power or might with strength. MacKaye and Picciotto embroider this foundation with terse guitar slashes and lyrical epigrams that are minimal but not simplistic. "Say it to your face/If I get to choose I'll take something real/The fight to feel," Guy rasps on "Nightshop." That fight has driven Fugazi for 15 years and is continued on The Argument. Lee Greenwood may be riding a bandwagon of vapid platitudes to the top of the charts, but Fugazi would rather tell the truth and leave the charts to the businessmen. America is a better place because of them.