When Refused released “The Shape Of Punk To Come” back in 1998, they turned the hardcore scene inside out. It took most of us a couple of years to fully appreciate the album for what it was and by then it was already too late because Refused were fucking dead. They made a big deal about breaking up, saying they would never play together again nor would they try to glorify or celebrate what was. Oh, and they had said everything there was to say. Since then guitarist Kristofer Steen made a documentary about the band, Refused played reunion shows in 2012… and then played more reunion shows earlier this year. Which brings us to today and to the release of their new album, “Freedom”.
Bold move, right? I mean, how on earth do you follow up an album like “The Shape Of Punk To Come”? The answer is… you don’t. Instead Refused set out to simply write whatever they felt like writing and let the music take them wherever it was it wanted to go.
On the album’s opening track “Elektra”, vocalist Dennis Lyxzén screams that ‘nothing has changed’ over off-kilter rhythms, but when you co-write a track with Taylor Swift producer Shellback and the end result sounds like something the Foo Fighters could have written, it’s pretty clear that something has indeed changed. But hey, we like the Foo Fighters here at PunkRockTheory so we’re not complaining. Next up is “Old Friends/New War”, another pretty decent track except for the intro, which comes with pitch-modulated vocals and the kind of heavy breathing one would normally associate with a circle jerk. “Dawkins Christ” is as lyrically scathing as it is musically raging. At this point, I am starting to let go of my reservations.
But then “Francafrique” starts off with a children’s choir singing ‘exterminate the brutes’, before a funky riff kicks in. I’m not sure what they were going for, but the end result sounds like Red Hot Chili Peppers minus John Frusciante. The same goes for “Servants Of Death” later on in the album. Both ”Thought Is Blood” and “Destroy The Man” sound more like ideas for songs rather than actual songs that go anywhere. The horns on “War On The Palaces” are a nice touch, but other than that it is actually a rather boring way to spend three and a half minutes. And I don’t know if they wanted to write a lullaby with the six and a half minute long “Useless Europeans” (Dennis does sing something about going back to sleep), but it sure as hell succeeded in knocking me out cold.
I’m not dismissing “Freedom” because it’s not another “The Shape Of Punk To Come”, but rather because it is simply not a very good album. There are traces of what could have been, but in the end Refused fail to deliver.