Believe it or not, music videos still exist. Sound Tracks trolls the internet to find the best and the worst of local artists’ new singles and the good, bad, or otherwise noteworthy visuals that accompany them.
There’s a lot of kerfuffle across the ol’ internet about Fucked Up’s latest record, the rather excellent David Comes to Life, being a double-LP rock opera. After all, Fucked Up is supposed to be a punk band, and double-album rock operas represent everything about the bloated, Pink Floydian pomposity of popular music that punk was defined antagonistically towards. But then, once punk became refined to the point of reification (via skank rabbit skateboard stickers, Avril Lavigne–issue pink wristlets, and whatever else), doesn’t it then become punk to do something as totally un-punk as release a rock opera? It may seem like lazy South Park politics: being defiant and contrarian and a pain in the ass at expense of actually caring about anything, but oh well. David Comes to Life is great. And ditto Fucked Up’s first video for (almost) album-opener “Queen of Hearts.”
Intentionally or not, the bombast of rock operadom comes to bear immediately on “Queen of Hearts,” if only in the video evocation of the tightly-wound elementary school backdrop of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. (Though, fairly, writer/director Scott Cudmore’s visual palette owes more to Michael Haneke’s WWI schoolhouse parable The White Ribbon or, at the very least, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.) Then there’s also the fire burning in the distance, its provenance unknown, unless you’re already fluent in David‘s extensive liner notes/libretto. After sternly reprimanding her students for their previous rehearsal, our school marm presses play on an old stereo and conducts her pupils through a boys against girls choral version of “Queen of Hearts.” In the first verse, Damian Abraham’s yowly vocals are reinterpreted as pre-punk chirps, giving life to the consciously adolescent rage explored on the album. Then the girls come in with harmonies and it all starts sounding as beautiful as it does on record.
Some may scoff at the “Queen of Hearts” video, and they might have reason. Certainly, since the blowback from the band picking up the 2009 Polaris Prize for their excellent sophomore record The Chemistry of Common Life, haters have been prone to hating. Critics (that is, critics of the band, not music critics, who unanimously adore Fucked Up) sneer that the band—which, yes, used to have a guy named Concentration Camp on vocals and release records with photos of Hitler on the sleeve, but, it should be noted is still called Fucked Up—has abandoned the legitimacy of their punk roots for the respectability of grossly ambitious, glossily-produced albums, with three guitarists. It’s not an uncalled-for niggle, but it all really depends on what you value more: the music, or some hazy ethical boilerplate you read on the back of some crusty’s jacket patch. And anyways what’s the matter with ambition? Sure it’s antithetical to the scuzz of slackerdom, but without ambition there’d be no Iron Maiden or Operation: Mindcrime or Zen Arcade (a seminal precedent for double-LP punk records).
Most impressive about “Queen of Hearts,” though, is how Cudmore and co. offer a rejoinder to the perceived irrelevancy of rock videos. Where Kanye or Lady Gaga releases are made into events in virtue of both their length and epicly bloated production values, “Queen of Hearts” offers a thematic counterpoint to the album instead of just being an interpretation of the track. Like the song, the video sets the stage for the narrative of David Comes to Life, with the gender-stratified school kids providing handy stand-ins for album’s hero, a factory worker named David, and his love, Veronica. The mediation of teacher-as-authority-figure, and the conspicuous furnace in the schoolhouse, set the scene for David and Veronica’s struggle against authority and industrial banality. And the video’s end, when the the Steadicam pulls back to reveal a crew appearing to be filming a video (and is that Abraham in suspenders and a fake beard?), suggests the meta-narrative gestures of the album, in which the narrator and David actually vie for control of the story.
Uniquely, and essentially considering the song’s place as a chapter in fabulously-textured (and tricky-to-follow) narrative, the “Queen of Hearts” video doesn’t just complement the song, it clarifies it.