Refused’s new album may divide opinion, but it far from tarnishes their legacy.
Released: 29th June 2015
Reviews about reviews may well be the most tiring form of music writing committed to page or screen, and yet if you read anything on ‘Freedom’, Refused’s first album since 1998, chances are you’ll be able to work out what side of the divide the writer is on before you reach the end of the second paragraph.
There are two camps. They hardly need describing. On one side, there are those who probably consider themselves a little more cerebral. Fed on polemic, they feel the band’s decision to release new material is herasy – going back on that venom filled ‘final communiquè’ that claimed “all that we have to say has been said here or in our music/manifestos/lyrics” and demanded (in capitals) “THAT EVERY NEWSPAPER BURN ALL THEIR PHOTOS OF REFUSED so that we will no longer be tortured with memories of a time gone by and the mythmaking that single-minded and incompetent journalism offers us.”
On the other, those who believe Refused deserve a chance to see what they can do with a platform they were never afforded first time round. That a band like theirs, in a climate such as today’s, might find rich pickings for new vitriol. And that really, getting angry about a band wanting to make music is a little bit silly.
‘Freedom’ is not ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ – not that such statements should need making. With guitarist Jon Brännström departed, the same band is in there, but if anything they’ve tightened those muscles. More immediate, more direct, what is lost in subtlety is made up for in raw power.
So when they decide to work with Taylor Swift collaborator and Refused super-fan producer Shellback, it isn’t a betrayal of what they stood for, but more an acceptance to push all boundaries. It means ‘Elektra’ opens with an almighty bang – a direct line to ‘New Noise’, a rallying cry that “nothing has changed”.
‘Dawkins Christ’ may not win the Matt Bellamy Award for Complex Political Critique for its title, but that build, scream, release pattern feels like seventeen years in the making, while ‘Francafrique’ achieves the near impossible of turning white boy funk rock into something disturbingly good.
To judge a band nearly two decades on from their initial split, on a statement made under different conditions, in a different time, is to expect Refused to be weak; too scared to go back on their word. The punk thing to do is to rip it up, deny everything, and raise hell once more. Defy expectation, ignore the haters, let it burn. The more you look, the more its true shape resembles Refused. Stephen Ackroyd