“Committed to excellence.” This phrase blares out ironically from the jacket art inside Fugazi’s sixth album, End Hits. On the one hand, it’s the kind of generic corporate slogan these politically righteous postpunkers mock; on the other, it’s truth in advertising, a credo summation of Fugazi’s career to date. When Fugazi first appeared, in the late Eighties, they willfully deconstructed their Washington, D.C., hometown-punk aesthetic. Where hardcore legends like Minor Threat (which featured Fugazi singer and guitarist Ian MacKaye) strived to break three-chord land-speed records, Fugazi took the slow road, investigating reggae-influenced riddims and a post-punk guitar iconoclasm that recalled Gang of Four and Sonic Youth. Yet when the alternative nation appropriated the band’s loud/soft dynamics and the sing-along tribal skank of mosh-pit anthems like 1989’s “Waiting Room,” Fugazi took a hard left into stylistic experimentation on albums like 1993’s In on the Kill Taker. Subsequent lurches into dub, confrontational skronk and even pop appeared designed to destroy any notion of a “Fugazi sound.”
End Hits continues Fugazi’s maverick bent. “Break,” for example, comes off as a shuffling jazzbo variation on “Waiting Room.” (“Break” also unintentionally recalls the Cure. It’s not the album’s sole New Wave-ish oddity
“Five Corporations” could be an art-damaged revision of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”) At times, End Hits’ cubist angles, unresolved melodies and discordant arpeggios feel intentionally difficult. Fugazi seem aware of their formalism
they’ve even named a song “Arpeggiator,” an instrumental that unapologetically revels in Televisionstyle six-string acrobatics. But next to, say, the same-y hard rock of Rage Against the Machine, Fugazi’s risky margin-walking exhilarates. “Committed to challenge” would be more accurate.