The Argument is full of what makes Fugazi great. Ian MacKaye and fellow singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto team up for their patented buzz-saw guitar dueling that can sound like a symphony of swarming bees or obscurely-tuned, minimalist melodies. Similarly, their vocals range from sweetly melodic to raging scream-fests. The foundation for this structure consists of Brendan Canty's exacto-drumming (often pulling and pushing the beat) and bassist Joe Lally's catchy, often dub-like low end. What's more, they can stop and switch directions on a dime, always keeping the listener guessing at what is to come.
That said, no two Fugazi albums are alike. By always moving forward, trying new approaches, while keeping one foot in the tried and trusted Fugazi formula, the band never fails to impress and surprise. And The Argument surprises, all right. It may just be Fugazi's most pretty and melodic effort to date, without sacrificing the band's trademark sound.
The new recording continues in the anything-goes tradition established on its last two albums of new material, 1995's Red Medicine and 1998's End Hits. (Instrument, the soundtrack to the 1999 Fugazi documentary of the same name, featured rarities such as demos, outtakes and practice tapes.) The band is not afraid to add piano, strings and the occasional trumpet to keep things interesting. This time around, the band ups the ante by adding second drummer/percussionist Jerry Busher to eight of the 11 tracks here, and it takes chances with a quieter side hitherto only hinted at. But, unlike the sometimes overtly experimental feel of the previous albums, The Argument incorporates new ideas and blends them into a more cohesive sound, somewhat similar to that of 1993's In On The Kill Taker.
On "Cashout," MacKaye melodically describes his disdain for the political establishment and urban developers who put poor families out on the street. Then, without warning, the band cranks the volume while MacKaye scathingly repeats the chorus "Everybody wants somewhere" before the song comes to an abrupt end.
"Strangelight" features Picciotto's crooning and proves that he and the band can slow it down a notch and change it up a bit while still sounding like themselves. The same can be said of "Nightstop." Here, Picciotto sounds as if he's singing over an intercom. The band then launches into one of its patented "swarm of bees/Panzer-guitar" attacks before a break that features (get this) some rippin' acoustic guitar strumming and handclaps. Who knew?!
The title track is perhaps the band's most overtly political song since "Reclamation" (from 1991's Steady Diet Of Nothing). It concludes the album how "Cashout" began it; with MacKaye and band building up from the pretty and melodic to an emotionally-charged, string-breaking, drumhead-busting climax. MacKaye's lyrics are incredibly prophetic and convincing here.
Oh, just listen to the darn record, will ya?