Title: Wide Awake
Artist: Parquet Courts
Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Punk Rock
Released: 18 May 2018
1. Total Football
3. Before the Water Gets Too High
4. Mardi Gras Beads
5. Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience
6. Freebird II
8. Back to Earth
9. Wide Awake
10. NYC Observation
12. Death Will Bring Change
"Can't someone tell me the reason?
I'm in the chaos dimension
Trapped in a brutal invention
If it stops I'm, if it stops I'm,
if it stops I'm having a bad dream"
“Wide Awake” is the 2018 album from New York punk rock group Parquet Courts, and their latest offering until the release of this year’s “Sympathy For Life”, on October 22nd. Back at the beginning of the original lockdown period, last March, I found myself obsessively relistening to this record. Being stuck at home for weeks on end, with nothing but uni work to keep me occupied, meant that I had a lot of spare time on my hands; something that would eventually lead to me spending most of that time listening to music. And while I tried to utilize this period productively, by broadening my horizons and educating myself with as much new music as possible, I somehow kept being drawn back to this very same album. Now, 15 months after I initially found myself confined within my home, I find myself in the very same position. And just as it did over a year ago, “Wide Awake” has been somewhat of a comforting voice amongst this strange and vacuous period.
There’s an explicit feeling of anger and disillusionment that resides underneath the bubbling, upbeat surface of “Wide Awake”. Musically, it’s far more colourful and vibrant than anything that Parquet Courts have released so far, but underneath the groovy basslines, beautifully rich guitar textures, and endlessly danceable songwriting, there lies a palpable rage; delivered through frontman Andrew Savage’s excellent vocal performances. While the record reflects upon many themes and topics, every song carries a singular, common, and central frustration. A frustration directed towards the inaction and incompetency of our political figures, as well as the indifference and ignorance of the people who they govern. Coupled with Savage’s deep sense of concern and anxiety for the general state of the world, it’s clear as to why the album has continued to be a beacon of comfort for me throughout these stagnated periods of lockdown over the last year. Many of these themes, while written outside the context of the current pandemic, resonate more than ever in the here and now. And while the album is plagued by the dystopian setting that it finds itself in (regardless of my recontextualization of its themes from the perspective of a self-isolating hermit in 2021), “Wide Awake” never stoops to the point of nihilism or despair. Instead, it presents itself as a wake-up alarm to take action and responsibility; all while achieving its status as a modern punk rock classic.
‘Total Football’ kicks the record off with a bold call to action, immediately enforcing responsibility upon the listener, as it emphasizes the importance of both social and political awareness. Savage preaches for collectivism, claiming that the only way to defeat oppression is to create unity amongst the oppressed. It’s the war-rally that sparks the revolution of “Wide Awake”; and as the opening moments of the album, it’s an absolute blast.
This is further expressed throughout the next few tracks, ‘Violence’, and ‘Before the Water Gets Too High’, each of which highlight various global issues, such as War and Climate Change, which are often swept under the rug, forgotten by many to even exist due to their lack of immediate consequence. While the ramifications of these issues are devastating, many of us live shielded and ignorant lives, resulting in ambivalence, which only promotes a cycle of inaction. On the other hand, global issues that have become commonplace in our society have caused a mass desensitisation amongst people; something explored within the track ‘Normalization’. This song is an excellent, confronting moment on the record, which poses questions to the listener as to what we find acceptable throughout this period in which we face moral ambiguities every single day. And in regular Parquet Courts fashion, every single one of these tracks is filled to the brim with style, finesse, and character.
The album continues with the explosive ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience’; the cornerstone of the album, and one of the finest rock songs of the last decade. It’s one of the catchiest moments on the record, and is a key demonstration of just how much fun “Wide Awake” is. The second half of the song is a particular highlight, as it bursts into a sprint, suddenly shifting the tempo upwards, pumping the tension higher and higher. It’s an exhilarating moment, and also feeds into the album’s central themes of disillusionment and anxiety, comparing our current socio-political circumstances to an “unshakeable nightmare”, and ending on a slightly ambiguous, yet poignant statement: “I’m counting on you”.
The sheer mania of ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight’ is dialled back slightly in the next track ‘Freebird II’. This is a far more personal song than any of the other material on “Wide Awake”, reflecting upon Andrew’s upbringing, and relationship with his mother. In an album so heavily pressed on delivering strong and evocative political statements, it’s refreshing to see Savage embrace something more introspective, targeting his own personal struggles, rather than the overwhelming turmoil that the rest of “Wide Awake” has its sights set on. He talks about his difficult relationship with his family, as well as his history of drug addiction; something he’s proud to finally have freed himself from. And he reflects on each of these hardships with a profound gratitude and appreciation for where he’s ended up. It’s a nice change of pace, and is also (surprise surprise) an absolute fucking banger.
The title track, while being one of the simpler moments of the record, is essentially “Wide Awake’s” thesis statement. It hammers home the record’s central theme, while executing it with impeccable style. The whole band joins in with the vocals to deliver an insanely catchy and poignant anthem, emphasizing the importance of responsibility and political activeness. And what it results in, is perhaps the most effective moment on the entire album. In regular Parquet Courts form, it’s insanely catchy, and the lyrics are simple and forward enough to clearly stress the points that the band are trying to make. Not to mention that the bassline is absolutely irresistible. As the lead single for the album, it does a great job of introducing its themes, but in the context of the record itself, it’s the glue that holds it all together.
The next two cuts on the album, ‘NYC Observation’ and ‘Extinction”, are some more extremely punchy, upbeat songs that transition beautifully into each other, and bring the record to its homestretch, with ‘Death Will Bring Change’, and the literal showstopper, ‘Tenderness’. This last song, in particular, proves to be “Wide Awake’s” finest moment. The lyrics are genuinely beautiful, it has some of the most unforgettable songwriting on the album, and it manages to wrap up its various themes of adversity, anxiety, but also hope, in its final minutes. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song, and as it comes to a close, what’s left is one of the best rock albums of the last decade.
I have very little doubt that “Wide Awake” will go down as a modern classic in the years to come. Apart from its prevailing relevancy, which I suspect will remain for many years after COVID has come and gone, it also manages to stay consistently enjoyable throughout. It strikes a perfect balance between poignant, effective lyricism, and some of the richest, most engaging songwriting of its time. There’s no other album I would rather be stuck in a room for weeks on end with, and I have a feeling “Wide Awake” will continue to provide me with much-needed comfort and enjoyment for years and years into the future.
"I'm wide awake
Mind so woke 'cause my brain never pushed the brakes
I'm wide awake
Eyes so open that my vision is as sharp as a blade
I'm wide awake"
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 25/08/2021
6/9/21, 8:39 am
Loved it 😍
5/9/21, 8:53 am
another great review, so proud of u x
31/8/21, 3:24 am
25/8/21, 11:55 am
yay!!! i love this review 🤍
12/8/21, 11:55 am
yay another great review!!! i love it!!!
5/8/21, 9:00 am
a very thoughtful and great review!!!
31/7/21, 12:55 am
such a good review!!!
31/7/21, 12:53 am
God I have been waiting on this review since I first watched Inside and you put it in words perfectly! (I personally would've rated it a 10/10) This review and this special are both amazing!! love love LOVE it!!
27/7/21, 8:56 am
yay!!! love olivia and this review!!!🤍
27/7/21, 6:40 am
Love your reviews! Keep em coming