Refused: The Shape of Punk to Come
Refused were a Swedish punk band featuring far-left lyrics. They first made waves in the United States with 1996s Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. With The Shape of Punk to Come, the band set out to meld the sounds of hardcore, funk, jazz and electronic music into a “futuristic” sounding album. The cover borrowed the layout from Teen-Age Dance Session, a 1954 album by Dan Terry.
The track which received airplay and has been featured in numerous televisions and movies is “New Noise”. The song distills the thesis of The Shape of Punk to Come down to a singable refrain “We dance to all the wrong songs/we enjoy all the wrong moves” while also stating “Can I Scream?”. Hardcore bands have noted this as a rallying cry to establish themselves s bands that aren’t afraid to sound different, to flaunt their own opinions, and to show their fans that they can too.
There were two other tracks which have really stood out to me as lasting statements from this album. “Summerholidays vs. Punk Routine”, ostensibly a song about punk bands being expected to look the part, follow the right steps, and fit what is expected to them. The reason this song has resonated with me is because I never looked the part of a punk rocker. In the early 2000s, I had long hair. For 15 years now, i’ve worn a button-down shirt to a desk job, but that doesn’t mean that the spirit doesn’t speak to me. Refused had an aesthetic that didn’t fit the mold they were expected to be in, and “Summerhollidays” shouts that from the mountain tops with the chorus “I’d rather be forgotten/than remembered for giving in”.
Finally,. the track “Protest Song ’68”, which is notable in my mind for the chorus “All it is is words/words said a million times before/all it is is a song/a song sung a million times before”. Basically, words cannot hurt you, even if you do not like what they have to say. Even offensive words can only have an effect if they are allowed. Actions may back up those words to make a threat, but words themselves cannot do that on their own.
Refused disbanded in 1998, after a shambolic tour that lead to poorly attended shows, shows being raided by police, etc. They reformed in 2012 and in 2013 released Freedom. Their legacy will always be that they have gone on to influence the sounds, ethos, and aesthetic of countless hardcore bands. This album may not have turned out to be the actual shape of punk that has yet come about, but for quite some time, it will continue to be on lists of influential albums and statements for a scene that has remained energetic as ever.