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Posted on June 25th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by Michael Negron

“Fuck What People Expect of Us.” That’s the tagline for Refused’s Rolling Stone interview ahead of Freedom. It’s a nice line: aggressive, eye-catching, just punk enough to be PR-friendly. This might be where some people start to talk about authenticity, as those who loved the storybook ending of a band turning punk on its head (while simultaneously challenging its meta before disappearing into thin air) wail about the notion of a comeback album that can only be a contrived coda to Refused’s pristine, long-finished history. The line serves not only as an instigator, but also a retort to that type of thinking, reiterated in their use of pop production icon Shellback to make sure you get the message: Refused don’t give a shit what you think, and they've worked as hard as they can to make sure Freedom doesn’t follow a logical narrative in any conventional way.

That’s not to say there isn’t a semblance of narrative at all. You’ll find the usual bag of lyrical tricks: stark imagery (“they stack the bodies a thousand high”), gratuitous repetition (“murder murder murder murder, KILL KILL KILL”), metaphors that are extremely obvious in their intended meaning but that no one can nail down the exact logistics on (“thought is blood”); Freedom has it all. But for all the pretense of social and cultural awareness, there’s a startling (and intentional) lack of thought regarding how the album works, either as a punk album in 2015 or even a Refused album – something that shouldn’t be too surprising considering it hadn’t even started as one. It lacks clearly definable trends, both within and beyond the album itself, offering a curious mix of something akin to familiar territory and artistic choices that are so left-field they’re almost intuitive. Almost.

Take, for example, the track many have been focusing on as the “outlier”: "Servants of Death." After a largely self-serious 8 tracks of thrashing riffs, you’d almost wonder if the mastering guy accidentally slipped in some Death From Above 1979 covers, were Dennis Lyxzén not screaming the eponymous refrain from the onset. But that’s not the only such song, oh no; it’s much more common than your “Elektra”-type tracks in its oddity; “Old Friends/New War” starts with a pitch-shifted vocal chant; “War on the Palaces” takes a note from Streetlight Manifesto and almost sounds happy to start a revolution... somewhere. Closer “Useless Europeans” is notable not only for its understated nature, but also for its considerable use of “traditional” vocals.

Refused aren’t pandering to old fans or new fans, or any immediately knowable group, and Freedom is not to The Shape of Punk to Come what that record was to their previous work. It’s a personal album, not in the “heart on your sleeve” sense so much as “do what you want, and make sure everyone knows you're doing what you want.” That’s alright, but it certainly doesn't translate to excellent quality.

If you need proof, I have two words for you: child chorus. The cliché to end all clichés, found straight-away on "Françafrique," would be obnoxious enough were it used for mostly emotive content, but it's nearly cringe-worthy when taken in the song's political context. Having children chant your ideologies offers nothing: sonically, it is overwrought and at best pleasant (and this particular verse is certainly not “at best,” to put it kindly). Emotionally, it packs the same punch as sitting next to a child in the dentist’s office, and politically, it comes off as a ploy for attention rather than a resounding statement. It's only more frustrating because the song's actual chorus is excellent; the fact that they decided to make it so integral to the song, and moreover the fact that the song is a damn single, gives you a peek into what drags the record down: the style is so inconsistent that there is not only no cohesion as an album, but even the songs themselves are held back by either a lack of creativity or editing.

Freedom is full of little diversions and deviations, ideas that shouldn’t work – and often don’t – but are sure to have you thinking, “Well that’s something.” Refused know how to put on a show, and this is no exception, but it probably would have served them better to reel back and consider why they’re doing what they’re doing. The Shape of Punk to Come had a clearly defined idea, even if it never needed to be spoken: it was challenging conventions politically, stylistically, and aurally, and doing so with humor and self-awareness. Freedom strips all the essential elements from Refused's formula, leaving yet another example of a comeback album degrading into self-parody.

Track List:

  1. Elektra
  2. Old Friends / New War
  3. Dawkins Christ
  4. Françafrique
  5. Thought Is Blood
  6. War On the Palaces
  7. Destroy The Man
  8. 366
  9. Servants of Death
  10. Useless Europeans
Refused - Freedom
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

44 / 100
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