Red Medicine


There are no weak points in the Fugazi discography, and arguably no truly definitive statements, either. The band’s trajectory was such that each album seemed like the fullest possible realization of their sound, only to have the next one spotlight a whole other facet of their greatness. So the inclusion of Red Medicine here isn’t meant to elevate it above the others, only to highlight the way it encapsulates the band’s capacity for growth. They shine in every register here, from hectic art-punk blare (“Back to Base,” “Downed City”) to moodier, more emotionally exposed tracks (“Forensic Scene” and “Long Distance Runner,” which epitomize, respectively, the yearning pathos in Guy Picciotto’s vocal delivery and the clear-eyed conviction of MacKaye’s) and palate-cleansing instrumental detours (eerie dub excursion “Version,” featuring Picciotto on clarinet, and the bouncy, infectious “Combination Lock”). Elsewhere we get songs that rank among the band’s sludgiest (“By You,” featuring bassist Joe Lally’s first vocal turn with the band), most danceable (“Target”) and most playful (“Birthday Pony”), all enhanced by an exquisite Don Zientara engineering job that perfectly captures the quartet’s road-seasoned chemistry. Red Medicine’s bracing experimental bent paved the way for further sonic adventures on Fugazi’s equally stellar final two full-lengths, 1998’s End Hits and 2001’s The Argument.

Hank Shteamer