"End Hits" deserves the shit that it's gotten from Fugazi fans, but that doesn't stop it from being a great album.
If "Red Medicine" was the beginning of a new era for the band, "End Hits" is them pushing the envelope of that era, seeing what the limits are. It's as if they were pleasantly surprised by the music they discovered they could make on the last album and now they were cautiously seeing if it actually suited them.
"Break" is the perfect first song for this album. It's got a classic Fugazi groove layered underneath this relaxed, almost jazzy clean guitar part -- and is that piano I hear? It sure is, this time used as an instrument and not as a vehicle for noise (as with the last album). McKaye's vocals in the center, when it's just him and a single guitar, are strange, but still fit the song perfectly.
Follow that up with classic Guy rocker, "Place Position" and you've got the makings of a fantastic new school Fugazi record, albeit one that seems definable. But you'd be getting ahead of yourself.
Joe Lally always seems to sing on the more atmospheric songs and "Recap Modotti" is no exception. We're venturing into stoner rock territory here, which is shocking, given that none of them are stoners. Even the teases of a build up ultimately don't pay off. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not something you'd expect from Fugazi...which is something you should get used to over the course of this album.
And while we're on the subject of weird song arrangements, here comes "No Surprises."
But then, like the parting of rain clouds, we get "Five Corporations," a fantastic example of how new Fugazi can still rock out like old Fugazi, but with more complex music. And we've even got that trademark Fugazi anti-establishment going on. Seriously, that tempo change for the chorus is unbelievable, particularly when it's followed by just bass, drums, and vocals for the verse.
"Caustic Acrostic" is a great song, a modern day Guy-style Fugazi song. You could tell, since Red Medicine, that Guy had gotten away from playing chords. I have to think that was a response to Ian McKaye's style of guitar, whose riffs and palm muting were more often a hammer than a scalpel. Guy's style evolved out of necessity and it made them a better band.
Things get weird again after "Caustic Acrostic." "Close Caption" and "Floating Boy" are spacey, atmospheric jams that push the boundaries of traditional song structure. They're glorious little oddities amongst the larger Fugazi library, wonderful experiments by a band that is no longer bound by a static sound. Most Fugazi fans I know hate these songs.
We bounce back with "Foreman's Dog," which is surprisingly straight forward for this album. It kind of reminds me of something to be found on "Steady Diet," yet with a better sound. And speaking of straight forward, then we get "Arpeggiator" which is ostensibly just a scale, but somehow Fugazi makes it great.
"Guilford Falls" feels like another new school Guy song, with an initial hook that is made up of picking each string rather than strumming chords. It's also got the classic Fugazi "introduce a new part by having just one guitar play it, then everyone eventually kicks in." Again, it's a complex song with layered guitars and an interesting structure, but it still has some classic Fugazi qualities.
And then we hit "Pink Frosty." It is possible there's no more maligned Fugazi song in their catalog than "Pink Frosty." It's understandable: it's barely a song. It sounds like someone took some drugs and mixed an outtake for the album. It's completely insubstantial, which would be much less of a problem if it weren't more than four minutes long.
It's hard to figure out what Fugazi is doing here. They obviously liked "Pink Frosty" enough to put it on the album, but does it have a thematic purpose? Is it meant as a palate cleanser before the big finale? The album is 13 tracks long so it's not like this needed to be on there to fill it out. Or was this an attempt at creating a balance with their first record, just in case this ended up being their last?
The last song on "End Hits," "F/D" is bizarre, but it's only bizarre because it appears to be two completely different songs smashed on to the same track. What's really interesting about it is that it's a clear breakdown between an Ian song and a Guy song. The very quiet opening features a straightforward chord progression with McKaye's rhyme-y punk rock vocals and an up tempo drum beat. But there's a break and then the Guy song comes crashing down, full of dramatic guitar and vocals. Yet for the twangy, high end guitar part, buried underneath it is a simple, driving guitar part that is, again, classic McKaye.
After a few seconds of silence when the song ends, we get outtakes from "No Surprises," like a reminder that this album was all about experimentation.
"Red Medicine" was a much more together album, but "End Hits" was a clear bridge to where Fugazi was headed. This record felt like Fugazi preparing for the end, but not quite there yet.