13 Songs is the 1989 album from the post-hardcore, Washington D.C. punk band Fugazi. It totals forty minutes and fourteen seconds in length and features (surprise, surprise) thirteen songs. It is a collection of two previously vinyl only EP's: Fugazi, and Margin Walker. The Fugazi EP was produced by the band and Ted Nicely, and engineered by Dischord's house engineer, Don Zientara. The Margin Walker EP was produced by John Loder and Fugazi, and was engineered by John Loder, and Paul Gadd. The albums contains photos by such DC scene stalwarts as Bert Quieroz, Adam Cohen, Jem Cohen, and Glen E. Friedman.
The sound of Fugazi, of which this album is a prime example, is composed primarily of jagged guitar shards, flowing, almost reggae-like bass, shouted, emotive vocals, all laid on top of a punk base, forged by the members days in the Washington hardcore scene of the early 80's. Their style is probably most comparable to bands such as Rage Against the Machine (without the rapping), Shudder to Think, Rites of Spring, or newer bands like Pilot to Gunner, or The Constantines (who are very influenced by Fugazi).
One of the themes which permeates this album, as well as many of Fugazi's albums, is the situation in Washington D.C.. While their later albums focused more on issues affecting the population of Washington, 13 Songs is more focused on the growing hypocrisy and chauvinism within the Washington punk scene. This theme runs strongly through several tracks.
Another theme featured on this album, which comes up on others, (most noticeably, 1991's Steady Diet of Nothing) is Ian Mackaye's pre-occupation with the power of words. The idea that something so small and truly meaningless could have so much power, and cause so much pain, represented most visibly by the last few tracks on the album.
The album starts off with what would become Fugazi's most well known song, Waiting Room(2:54). Written in 1987, amidst the turmoil that had followed Revolution Summer, the song embodied Mackaye's own attitudes at the time. "I am a patient boy, I wait, I wait, I wait..." directly referring to Mackaye's own wishes to be in a band again, albeit one which would be held together by shared ideals, and not immediately torn apart, as had become customary of the Washington/Dischord bands. The fact that this song came to be the song that Fugazi would be known for, their "hit", if you will, seems ironic, as at the time, it was quite disliked amongst the Washington Punks, who were hoping for another Minor Threat, and wanted to know what "...All this reggae shit," was.
Bulldog Front(2:53) marks the first time Guy Picciotto gets lead vocal duties on the album, and indeed the first time since One Last Wish broke up. Musically the song expands upon the slowed down, rhythm heavy tone established on the previous song. Lyrically, it's an indictment of all the violent slam-dancing that went on in the punk-scene at the time.
"You can't be what you were...", the mantra that starts off Bad Mouth(2:36), the third song on the album, let's all of the punk fundamentalist's know that Fugazi is not Minor Threat, and to a lesser extent, Embrace. Telling people to let the past stay in the past, and move on with their lives, and not to let things stagnate, as the punk scene had done.
Burning(2:39 brings out another topic Fugazi often return to, that of physical independence. The song takes the point of view of someone watching people engage in senseless acts of destruction, yet doesn't do anything to stop it. "What is this burning in my eyes?" The song takes on a more post-punk style, sounding more like Happy Go Licky than anything else on the album, albeit Happy Go Licky by way of Fugazi.
Give Me The Cure(2:59) confronts America's conspiracy of silence during the growing AIDS epidemic of the 80's. "Generally AIDS has been approached as a 'sinners' plague' or a plague among people of lesser value, where in fact it is a disease like any other. Until people can confront AIDS on that level, I don't think the energy can be found to find a cure." - Ian Mackaye
The centerpiece of the album comes as Suggestion(4:44), and it's companion piece, Glue Man(4:21). The former was written after a friend related to Ian her experiences of being accosted on the street. The situation angered Ian to such a degree, he had to write something about. Problems arose when he realized he could not objectively write about it from the male perspective. As such, the first half of the song is written from a female perspective, and the second half was written as "a human being, an observer of the situation". The latter, Glue Man originated from a short film by Jem Cohen, which Fugazi did the music for. Later, Guy Picciotto took lines from the movie, and added to his own, developed the lyrics to, what would become, one of Fugazi's most psychedelic, cathartic songs. According to Guy Picciotto, it's "A song about obsession".
Margin Walker(2:30), the title track from Fugazi's second EP, begins the second half of the album. It starts off with clipped harmonics, before the rhythm section of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty comes in to propel the song. This is the first instance where Guy Picciotto, who had previously only done lead and back-up vocals, lends his guitar chops to the band, forever setting a standard which Fugazi would meet, and surpass time and again, over the following 12 years their career would span.
Following Margin Walker is And The Same(3:27) starts off sounding much like the instrumental tracks from Repeater, then the vocals come in... The songs lyrics are a commentary on the growing murder rate in Washington D.C., which in 1989, had the highest murder rate of all American cities.
(2:41) relates to the continual destruction of the environment, as well as peoples apathy towards it. While it very well could
be a continuation of Burning
it's more likely named Burning, Too
because they already had a song called Burning
, and felt that they had to name it something different, without losing the title altogether.
Provisional(2:17) is probably the song that ends up being weakest on the album. A fact that was obviously recognized by Fugazi, as the redid the song, and put it on their following album, Repeater, listed as Reprovisional. Not that it's not a great song, as Reprovisional illustrates, it just wasn't "there" on this CD. It sounds like Fugazi was holding back, but this could be attributed to uneasiness in the studio, which is something that affects all bands who have built reputations around their live shows. Lyrically however, it is one of Fugazi's stronger moments, it's faults simply lay in recording. Edward Janney plays second guitar on this track, making it a reunion, of sorts, for the core members of such bands as Rites of Spring, One Last Wish, and Happy Go Licky.
Lockdown(2:10) talks of people giving themselves up to jobs in the Databank age. In a sense, killing themselves for the petty pursuit of wealth. "Lockdown the remains" the remains being that last part of the person that is still alive and willing to fight. This is an issue which comes up increasingly more often, as people sell out the revolution and rebellion of their youth, in favor of security.
The Album concludes with one of it's stronger moments. Promises, often called Promises are Shit(4:03), which takes the trademark Fugazi sound, and slows it down, makes it a little, darker. This song marks the culmination of Ian Mackaye's obsession with the power of words. The first half of the song is composed of a slow dub-like bass-line with arpeggiated guitar lines over top of it, supported as always, by Brendan Canty's solid drumming, albeit much less frantic on this song. The second half speeds things up somewhat, with Ian shouting out to all of Fugazi's detractors, of which there were many, because of Fugazi's often confrontational stance on many issues. "You will do, what you do, and I will do, what I do, we will do, what we do, rearrange, see it through"
Fugazi's 13 Songs acted as a call to arms for a new generation of punk rock kids. They lyrics may have been more opaque than some of their later releases, but the power and fury of the record was not lost on its listeners, how else can the fact that it is still considered by many to be Fugazi's best album be explained?