Fugazi are one of the most efficient bands around their work ethic ensures that there's no extraneous or superfluous laboring over less-than-perfect songs, and that we, the record-buying public, won't get a Fugazi record when industry logic dictates but, rather, when the band has new things to say, both musically and lyrically. What Fugazi have to say on The Argument is simple: if you want something done, do it yourself. While certainly not as blatant nor as reductive as that, the driving force behind the album seems to be that we all know things are broken (the democratic process, assimilation policy, land developers having the ear of government) and that we all have our own personal problems, but we need to overcome all these challenges.
Plucking a few of the more discernible lyrics from the record, one gathers that Fugazi are still pissed off with the way the world is being operated. When Ian sings on the title track, "I'm on a mission to never agree/ Here comes the argument," you know that he's not hiding behind rhetoric. Nor is he giving the entire world a two-fingered punk rock salute; instead, he aims his "argument" at specific targets.
"Cashout" targets developers and the corrupt "elected representatives" complicit in their social pillage: "They carried out the wishes of the landlord and his son/ Furniture's out on the sidewalk next to the family/ That little piggie went to market/ So they're kicking out everyone/ Talking about process and dismissal/ Forced removal of the people on the corner/ Shelter and location/ Everybody wants somewhere." And: "The elected are such willing partners/ Look who's buying all their tickets to the game/ Development wants, development gets/ It's official/ Development wants this neighborhood gone/ So the city just wants the same."
The prophetic words about U.S. jingoistic nationalism in "Life and Limb" ring out in the current military fervor: "The national temper/ You know it's written on your face/ Etched and scratched and mirrored back/ Don't you know it's all the rage/ Don't you feel it now?"
And like thousands (millions?) of angry, compassionate folk from around the world, they address their disdain with the economic rationalism and globalization that permeate current political thought in "Oh": "Number one in acquisitions/ Now there is no foreign soil go global." "Strangelight" decries the loss of first-world jobs to exploited third-world workers: "It's hard to punch the clock on the site where production stopped."
The band also addresses democracy and direct action in "Ex-Spectator": "Can an observer be a participant?/ Have I seen too much?/ Does it count if it doesn't touch?/ If the view is all I can ascertain/ Pure understanding is out of range/ If I make that call/ Why can't I make that change?"
Musically, The Argument represents Fugazi's best collections of songs from their 13-year career. End Hits, their last album proper (discounting the interesting collection of songs assembled for the soundtrack to their "Instrument" documentary) was an ambitious pulling together of disparate musical elements (punk, rock, pop, reggae, dub). The result was a slightly incoherent listen, as the elements and sounds were kept discrete punk songs, dub songs. The Argument works where End Hits fell down, because this time the group has pulled those diverse musical influences into each song. The result is a cohesive album of songs informed equally by visceral punk rock, classic pop and dub.
The group is also stretching itself in unexpected ways. Who would have predicted three-part backing harmonies ("Full Disclosure"), acoustic guitars or a piano-based song ("Strangelight") from Fugazi? Yet all are delivered here with the band's trademark nous. Never before has a Fugazi record been so directly catchy, either. Tracks such as "Birthday Pony" and "Forensic Scene," both from Red Medicine, had enticing, sing-along choruses, but the guitar and vocal melodies on The Argument ("Argument," "Epic Problems") represent Fugazi's most accessible and hooky work to date.
The politics are still there, of course, and so is the trademark aggression (check Guy's intense, demented syllable-less wailing on "Full Disclosure"), but it's mediated by a more moderate, delicate touch that further emphasizes the group's amazing dynamics: loud-soft, dark-light, frantic-relaxed. Such changes could have softened a lesser band's "edge," but Fugazi are still and undoubtedly will always be punk in the true sense of the word, having to do with an approach to dealing with the world, not a musical style.