Get In the Van...and Fucking Stay There!!
Probably the archetypical early-80's El Lay hardcore act, Black Flag sinned against the lockstep blockhead world by truly embodying indie values - not only were the Flag so indie they put out records on a label run by their guitar player (SST, and Greg Ginn, though not necessarily in the order of importance), they were so indie they liked ZZ Top and the Grateful Dead and spent the last several years of their career playing heavy metal music while being fronted by Buzz Cut from Beavis and Butthead. How's that for hardcore, motherfuckers? How's that for independent? True punks, this is a band that, if given the choice, always did it the excruciatingly difficult way. Why make money at your gigs when you can make them all ages? Why rake in reliable dough playing around Los Angeles every weekend when you can climb into a rusted-out van and drive to Charlotte, North Carolina or Montana or somesuch far-flung-ass place where three people have heard of you and there are more shotguns than record players? In fact, Black Flag spent so much time in their van traveling from gig to gig it took them several years to figure out one of their members had been replaced by a female (a pretty hot, petite one, too), and that their career had, in fact, died several years before.
Just kidding. Or maybe not. The first several years of the Jack Fag Experience were marked by a veritable Long March succession of vocalists and a quick and violent ascent to the top of the local scene after the release of a couple of seminal early EP's (and I say 'seminal' because most of the young male punkers were broke-ass and had to prostitute themselves to get enough money to buy a record, but that's one of those bummer-type discussions for another day) before finally settling on a D.C. transplant, former Minor Threat groupie Henry Rollins. Rollins was a screwed-up ugly longhair guy with more issues than National Geographic, ranging all the way across the board from rage issues, depression issues, women issues, communication issues, throat issues to toilet tissues. He finally put a memorable face on the Flag, who to this point had had to rely on the fine, smooth stylings of guitar player Greg Ginn, better known as the 'John Scofield of West Coast Hardcore', if by 'John Scofield' you mean 'retarded rabid 16-fingered berzerker chipmunk'. In terms of guitar prowess, if Johnny Ramone was punk's Chuck Berry, and Tom Verlaine was its Jerry Garcia, Greg Ginn should probably be considered its Tiny Tim, except, you know, with a cheaper instrument. Nah! Ha! Really...some good licks from ol' Ginn-boy, but just as many 50,000-volts-into-a-Speak-and-Spell avalanches of randomized notes stuck in randomized order to be listened to by randomized people. The man simply was not a very consistent guitar player. He was, however, a much better producer, arranger, and taskmaster, and kept the Flag tighter than any other band of its particular ilk. Otherwise, outside of Rollins's increasingly annoying psychoses, Black Flag didn't have a whole lot to go on after 1982's Damaged - they weren't funny, they didn't write as well as, say, Minor Threat, and they refused to play the hardcore jukebox. By 1985, it wasn't particularly rare to have a Black Flag concert sound more like Judas Priest than Richard Hell, with the pothead jazzy instrumental faction of the band (Ginn and rhythm section) diametrically opposed to the poetry-and-screaming one (Rollins). The band crumbled in '86, with Rollins going onto become yet another one of those former indie-darlings to score big with the trendily disaffected asshole crowd of the Nirvanineties, supplementing himself by going on tiresome speaking tours and whoring himself out to EVERY LAST GODDAMN VH-1 PEOPLE-SITTING-ON-FRONT-OF-THE-SCREEN-TELLING-YOU-WHY-BILLY-SQUIER'S-'STROKE'-IS-A-REALLY-REALLY-FUNNY-SONG SHOW EVER PUT ON TELEVISION. My wife now calls Rollins 'Mr. Shut the Hell Up', because that's what she says whenever she sees his shrunken-headed noodle gabbing like Joan Rivers on the TV set. His cool factor has submarined now that most of his fans are either married or dead, or married to dead people, though his Rollins Band trundles ever onward, sort of like an 80's Black Sabbath with a worse vocalist and lots of songs with single word titles. Greg Ginn kept running SST as the cool started to run out in the tank after most of its biggest stars scored big-label contracts (Husker Du, Meat Puppets, etc.), and, as far as I know, still does the DIY thing today. He's still answering the phone and still putting 45's in envelopes (I think I ordered an ALL album from him once), and has remained the most indie man in all of LA. Good for him, since anything that keeps him away from his guitar is probably a good thing.
I'm not the biggest fan of this group, and am really quite bewildered by their never-ending appeal to every kid who's graduated from the Ramones and Sex Pistols and wants to hear something that would never, ever end up as background on a Diet fucking Pepsi advertisement. Unfortunately, much of their early stuff was recklessly unthoughtful (any band that puts out a song like 'White Minority' ought to have its balls fed to sewer rats for encouraging the skinhead scourge) and amateurish, and their later work was self-indulgent, boring, and moronic. I personally feel that a lot of the 'fuck you's the band gave to the inbred hardcore scene were right on the money, and I appreciate the amount of work they put in and the devotion they had, but outside of about a LP-side's worth of greatness, they simply weren't talented or together enough to warrant being considered above bands like Bad Religion or, especially, Minor Threat (who continue to rule the hardcore roost, at least for yours truly). Still, they're, you know...interesting, and about three dozen people have asked me to review them, so here goes and make sure you have a tight hold on your dentures, headbangers:
A collection of all the early Blag Flack EP's and singles from back when every time they changed guitar strings a new singer joined the band. The first of these was future Circle Jerk Keith Morris, who had probably the best voice out of all the BF singers, including ol' Howlin' Hank himself. The first four tracks (combined running time: 5:34) comprise the debut EP Nervous Breakdown, and are goddamn ace. Stylistically, it's pretty much Ramones fronted by John Vicious Sid Rotten, but Greg Ginn gets a guitar tone so colossally grimy it sounds like dirt clods are falling right out of it. For an EP that lasts longer than it takes me to brush my teeth, there's not really anything I'd change about it. Score one for the Johnny Bob Goldstein band.
The second four tracks (5:38, which means they're already selling out) are the Jealous Again EP fronted by some Puerto Rican dumbass named Ron Reyes (aka Chavo Pederast, though probably 'Charro Gucci Gucci' would have been more accurate) who proceeds to flirt with neo-Nazism on 'White Minority', and lemme tell ya...the words 'White PRIIIIDE!!!" coming from the mouth of a Puerto Rican is either brilliant parody (not very motherfucking likely) or one of the most gruesomely baldfaced cases of selling out to gain the support of a portion of your audience, who in this instance just happen to be people who idolize Adolf Hitler and beat up pregnant black ladies on the street for fun and games. Not that I'm letting my pretty deep resentment of this song and what it stands for spill over, but the rest of this EP pretty much mines the boogers out of the dog's ass because Charro is a boring, clitoral singer with no balls, and Greg Ginn seems to have left his guitar tone in his other pants. Whatever. Most of this shit is over so fast you won't notice much of it anyway.
The remainder is given over to the reign of singer Dez Cadena, who I think never really wanted to be a frontman, which is just fine with me because he sounds like the assistant manager of Circuit City getting his frustrations out on the ride home after a day wasted trying to sell a $3000 plasma set to a 75-year-old widower on a fixed income who likes the company. This is, however, when the Black Flag Sound began to kick on in earnest (and Kick in Earnest, if you 'De-gas' my 'Sour Water Stripper', and I think you do), as Greg Ginn finally gets his rhythm section to really keep up with him as he plays havoc with his d-string in a bizarre and not entirely comfortable tribute to John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Neil Young having a seizure. As his guitar stylings have not yet gotten tiresome, what Ginn does over the top of the blazing, unchecked anger of his singer and rhythm section is refreshing and, well....rock and roll. I can totally see someone looking on him as a sort of guitar anti-hero at this point. The lead he pulls out on 'Louie Louie' (still the best song on here by miles) is some sort of a revelation. The songs still aren't really much (though they're certainly better than Jealous Again), but I guess that wasn't the point at the time. As long as you were more unchecked, louder, and sounding more like a three-year old being dragged out of a Chuck E. Cheese, that was all that was necessary. All you have to do is listen to Dez's version of the closing mosh anthem 'Damaged' next to Hank's, and you'll understand what was missing from the early Flag - charisma.
I guess you can't be formulaic if you're in the process of inventing something, but I'm still a bit bummed out by, outside of some of Ginn's lines, this album seems to really kinda drag on. Angry, yeah, but you know, sorta...neutered. They don't express themselves well enough to have an impact, they're not smart enough to be original or funny, and their singers can't even really do pissed off very well. I guess for the roots of Damaged, this is the place to go, but for good, hard, glass-guzzling music, I think it lacks.
Capn's Final Word: Hard, but these singers kinda lick. Bring on the Horse Steroids, fellas!
Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I do like the "Nervous Breakdown" EP best of all here, so we're in agreement there, but damn...I was afraid that you hated them...and now I'm proven correct. Shit. I'm really not looking forward to the ratings for "Damaged" and "My War"...but I jumped ship after "Slip It In" (what a piece of crap).
Regarding the infamous "White Minority":
It was meant as satire, though it is sophomoric, and I can definitely see how you misunderstood it. Ron Reyes is Puerto Rican, and their drummer Robo (aka Roberto Valverde) was a Colombian immigrant. Their producer, soundman, and manager Spot was African-American.
There were numerous interviews (ok, interviews don't mean all that much) where the band explained that it was satire. The band was also beat up numerous times by Nazi skinheads. Rollins would bait any that showed up to gigs. Skinheads tried to hit Greg Ginn with a car and run him over and nearly succeeded. Okay? This band was hated by white supremacists.
Well, okay, the lyrics: "We're gonna be a white minority/We won't listen to the majority/We're gonna feel inferiority/We're gonna be white minority." What kind of a white power band (cause that's what you're making them out to be) would write a lyric like "we're gonna feel inferiority"? Or like "I'm gonna hide/anywhere I can"? Or like the completely pathetic end line "We're all gonna die"? Isn't the whole point of that execrable, degrading and horrifying movement exalting macho whiteness above anything else? Fucking Nazi skinheads ought to fucking die. What a fucking plague on society. Anyway, I don't want to come off as some nihilist Black Flag worshipping "I Want Rollins' Ass Baby" kind of freak. But I am saying that you're selling the band short. They were satirizing white supremacists.
Sorry for such a long comment. I really like the site.
- SST 1981
Very much an album of its place and time, namely, starving and beaten down in Los Angeles circa 1981, Damaged wads up all the impotency, anger, frustration, and psychoses that had haunted the band since their ascent to the top of the hardcore scene, and filtered it through the disassociative bellow of love myself/hate myself demagogue Henry Rollins. Some, especially those in the immediate blast zone of this album when it was released, revere this thing like an idol sent from the God of Gutter Disaffection, and proclaim it the very top of the Hardcore Heap. Well, for LA, that might be true, but for the entire U.S., that's a crock of balooner Damaged is, let's be honest about it, a fairly difficult listen - though some of it reaches a sort of vomitessent free-jazz points of fascination ('Damaged I'), and the changeup pitches are both funny and welcome ('TV Party', 'Six Pack'), too much of it simply relies on Henry's ability to sound like a sputtering 15 year old finally kicking off his rocker, tearing posters off the wall, smashing empty whiskey bottles on the floor, and jabbing lit cigarettes into his forearms. Yeah, Rollins sounds damn convincing - oftentimes, listening to this album is like reliving the drunken hotel-room sequence of Apocalypse Now in your head. Is he really having a breakdown in the studio? How can one man scream so much? Is life really that bad for the guy? When he says 'No one comes in! Damaged! STAY OUT!', is he really just that self-conscious about leaving some dirty Fruit of the Looms on his bedroom floor? Was he busily 'toggling the joystick' in there or something? Maybe all Henry Rollins needs is to get laid. That's my theory, anyway. Not a lot of good sex going on in the hardcore scene, y'know.
If it's all an act, and by all accounts it wasn't, it deserves an Oscar, a Screenwriter's Guild Award, a Tony, and a $1000 call-girl blowjob in the backseat of a Bentley limousine. But that's what Rollins does, and he'd keep trying to do for the rest of his career - squat, grunt. squeeze the mic, and tense himself up so hard that the only logical conclusion would either be a blood-vessel bursting howl or a poopy in his cutoff shorts. On Damaged he's too young and too filled with energy and bad will, so the act comes across better than it would years later as a 30-odd year old trying to look hardass on MTV. Part of me thinks what he does here is extremely cool - as close to the Iggy Pop Fun House-era sputtering psychopath as anyone's been able to come - and part of me thinks he looks and sounds like a complete jackleg. You make the call - grown man Primal Screaming his way through someone else's lyrics to connect with mid-teen hardcore punker kids who don't like taking out the trash - interesting take on the role of lead singer or dumbass pandering? I can't really make up my mind, meself.
If it was only Henry, I could pass Damaged off as poseurish shit, but the similarly ambilvalent presence of Greg Ginn's now far beyond mangled electric guitar confuses things even further. Sometimes the man is Johnny Ramone ('TV Party'), sometimes he's Steve Jones (the pumping 'Rise Above'), sometimes he's Ron Asheton ('Damaged I', my favorite song on the record), and sometimes he's....Robert Fripp. Except with two fuzzboxes instead of just one, and most of his strings completely detuned into a farty, floppy mess. Right, again, I can't quite figure out if it's genius or utter bullshit, whether it's brilliantly architectured or just the loudest, most guttural-sounding bunch of incompetent haphazard The rhythm section simply keeps up - that's all they really can do, you know? I guess if they had a John Bonham or a Bill Ward back there they could do sometime more interesting, but Biscuits and Gravy (or whatever the fuck their names were) aren't really strong enough to hack the mustard in half. They're still better than the Descendents guy who would take over the drumming on the next album.
Hey, you know what I found out today? Dez Cadena hadn't left the Blackie Flag and the Flagtones by the time they'd recorded Damaged, he'd just moved himself over to 2nd chair electric noise twanger and proceeded to have his guitar parts completely buried in the mix. Not that everything else isn't buried in the mix either...considering that stereophonic sound had been invented fifty years earlier and had become a staple of most long-playing record albums in the late 60's, you think that Greg Ginn would've figured out that the instruments don't sound all that great all piled together in a lump right in the center of the sound spectrum like a beer gut on a Kennedy, but there it is. And there they are, tracks amassed in complete and utter formlessness, if only for the name of 'punk rawk'. and stuff. Well, Damaged is punk rock, so I'll call the claustrophobic sound apropos, but try this in a few years on your metal shit and I'm calling you out, Twiddly Fingers Boy.
Capn's Final Word: Partially a poseurish mess, but partly scary and convincing as a home invasion. I really doubt too many people had reservations about Rollins as a singer after this, though.
- SST 1981
Okay, okay, so there's something people have already pointed out to me about my First Four Years review, where I went off on the perceived racism of 'White Minority' like a bull dyke outside an Eminem concert - I admit, I didn't realize the thing was done tongue-in-cheek. Gotcha. Good joke, I guess, a Puerto Rican singing a ridiculously awful white power song, and I now understand that Black Flag were hated by the skinheads because of Rollins' constant baiting (which I had heard of, by the way). For sure, I never thought Black Flag were actually racists (it's hard to think of anyone as dorky as Greg Ginn actually harboring lunkheaded Nazi thoughts, though maybe in the case of Steve Albini I'll make an exception), but just that they'd tried to catch some bandwagon or another in their early days when they were still looking for an audience. So, case closed, I guess, though I'm not backing down from my contention that the song, as a song, pitifully snorts the smeg from 'neath my sheath, though.
This EP was the world's first taste of Henry Lawrence Garfield (tasted like chicken, except marinated in human sweat and pathetic mommy issues), the true face of Black Flag and the guy who would either be their credible savior or the heavy metal anvil dragging them off the true path of righteousness, depending on whom you ask. We'll get on to how I feel about his...erm....artistic endeavors....round 'bout the time I review Family Man. For now, though, the guy is money...a big, boomy voiced teenage kid who successfully embodied all of the inferiority-complexed geek-gone-berzerk rage inherent in Greg Ginn's songs and lyrics (for the time being, Greg and bassist Chuck Dukowski continued to be the songwriting 'axis' of the band). Things never got better or more focused for the Flaming Flags than the TV Party EP, containing probably their best-known and funniest single 'TV Party' and two others that are even better. 'TV Party' namechecks all the best shows from back when I was 5 years old (though why they don't mention my favorite, Dukes of Hazzard, is a crime against sadly true redneck cliches everywhere). Of course, it's 'social commentary' and whatnot, how the guy never wants to go outside because of all the nastiness he sees on TV news, but the most fun is to hear Greg Ginn's cracked Southern Rock lead lines (that's exactly what they are, too...it cracked me up when I realized it sounds more like Molly Hatchett than Lydia Lunch). 'I've Got to Run' is an extraordinary headbanger track featuring time-shifts every few seconds, and 'My Rules' has these brilliant starts-and-stops that sound like someone is changing the channel on the radio between two competing hardcore punk stations.
Capn's Final Word: Considering EP's from SST cost, like, $7 or whatever, I could say that more than a dollar a minute is probably worthwhile for this one.
This set of demos recorded with the record-company limboed two-guitar Damaged lineup as the potential followup to that record is revelatory, containing many of the songs that would populate the now bewilderingly crappy My War and Slip it In, plus some others, performed in the spine-wrenching Damaged-style. Now, in their later years the Flag liked to spout off about how they were one of the tightest and hardest rocking bands in the world, a contention I always reacted to with uncontrolled laughter and Coke flying through my nose. I mean, Live '84, which I liked, sure as hell doesn't seem to present them as the Titans of Hard 'n' Fast - any band who releases an album where their lead singer loses his grunt three songs into the show is probably not firing on all Mexicans, dig? But, man, maybe it's the lockstep rhythm guitar set down by Dez, or the fact that the Dukowski/Biscuits rhythm section was simply unwilling to slow it down, but with this particular lineup of the Flag, claims of Hardest and Tightest don't seem quite so ridiculous anymore. Whatever happens, Dez keeps Greg in line, the rhythm section never allows the tempos to lag, and the energy level on these tracks is like pissing on an electrified fence while smoking a crack pipe. Plus, I always liked Henry the psychoactive teenage screamer far more than Henry the 20-something woofing Jock, and these Demos catch him sometime just before he made his complete transformation into a walking blood vessel.
Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, 1982 Demos catches the band itself in the middle of its own Transformer transformation from speed-demon insanity punk drag racer to lumbering white trash sub-metal primered Camaro. They are really in a pretty cool stage in their songwriting, adding actual melodic lines to tracks with, you know, pretty traditional punk themes, like how 'Beat My (Dead) Head Against the Wall' is about abusing hippies, or 'Nothing's Left Inside' is about using drain cleaner as a enema, or 'Black Coffee' is about starting a chain of virally multiplying, highly pretentious, and criminally overpriced beigeist white-people brand name cafes in which unemployed yuppies sit around and play Minesweeper on their laptops in a vain attempt to convince everyone they're doing something important and/or exciting with their lives other than sitting around drinking $5 cups of coffee on a Tuesday afternoon. They're branching out, see? Exploring new worlds, sprouting new appendages. Unfortunately, some of those appendages would later be responsible for Family Man and Loose Nut, but they're just cute little cancerous growths right now - a somewhat extended Ginn lead line here, a stutter in the riffage there - just some very tasty spice in the Damaged mix. Anyhow, I would rank the performances of songs like 'Slip It In' (still frighteningly hateful towards women, but better rocking here! Like the Stooges or something!), 'My War', the purely evil 'Nothing's Left Inside', and the monstrous two versions of 'I Love You' as being so far above the versions the band would later release that it makes ME wonder whether the true genius behind Damaged was not Ginn and Rollins, but Dez and Dukowski. Kinda like how everyone thought that scumbag Kobe Bryant would magically turn into Michael Jordan once he didn't have Shaq and all those other guys stealing the spotlight from him all the time. Riiiiight. I hear Laker season tickets are now being traded straight-up on Ebay for packages of missized tube socks from Malaysia.
Anyway, I'll say it like this, which is a horrible cliché, but since I've never let that stand in my way before, here goes: any Black Flag fan owes it to himself to track this bootleg down (Best option: download it! - not even the RIAA cares if you're only stealing from the criminals!) and hear how the band was supposed to sound on these tracks before they got hijacked by Master and Blaster and forced to play stoned free jazz fusion jams about sweet, sweet poontang.
Capn's Final Word: What shoulda been. Blame that fucking Unicorn Records for it not having been like this all along.
Unicorn Records shall forever be known as the record company too pussy to release Damaged, rather preferring to tie up the Black Flag name in court from 1982 to 1984, preventing the bandmembers from releasing anything under their own name. Everything Went Black (released with only the bandmembers names on the cover, and no mention of Black Flag) was the 1983 release sent out to attempt to stop the audience from hemorrhaging, a career retrospective of demos, outtakes, and radio ads from the first three singers that'll probably not satisfy anyone other than Chavo Pederast's momma or Keith Morris, who was happy to have more Black Flag lyrics to steal for the Circle Jerks. I suppose this is great if you essentially want to hear 'Gimme Gimme Gimme', 'Depression' and 'Police Story' three times in an hour. I suppose I don't mind doing that, but I prefer listening to the Nervous Breakdown EP off First Four Years when I feel like that. Umm...I guess I never have gotten very interested in Black Flag singers that weren't Henry Rollins, because most of them sounded like 'just guys' who had to climb on their 10-speed and leave their Dungeons and Dragons clan meeting early to go down to the recording studio and lay down a track before mom and dad called them home for meat loaf and peach pie. Dez Cadena is the one who sounds the most like he's trying to be a hardass, in the process coming across as the biggest poseur of them all (the Damaged outtakes with him on vocals are so generically muscleheaded they're nauseating ) At least Rollins's posing is viscerally powerful, even if it looks a little bit too over-the-top to be completely believable. Cadena, man...he was simply the Bill Wyman of Black Flag vocalists.
This album actually bores the fuck out of me. You know what? At its best, Greg Ginn's guitar mixmaster is pretty fascinating. There's no doubt that the man had at least some plan as to what he was doing, even at moments when it sounded more random than Paris Hilton's Los Angeles County Community College entrance essay. There's no doubt that the man's peak occurred with Damaged, where his lines actually seemed to represent something a little bit more articulated than 'Grok Angry! Grok SMASH!!! Grok want girlfriend but Grok not like Grokself very much!' Much of the time prior to Damaged, however, Ginn was just a less-precise (and far less melodic) Johnny Ramone with a tendency to inject poorly copped Johnny Thunders licks. Some pretty major circuits must've come into service when Dez took over some of the rhythm work from Ginn for the Damaged sessions, freeing the man's inner Mahavishnu Orchestra and all that. Here, man...so much of the music in these demos is just fucking sad. Get the real issues, and leave this one for the Ginn worshippers with Gone instrumentals set as their cellphone ringtones.
The radio ads, however, are absolutely choice to listen to once. Try to download 'Crass Commercialism' somewhere and listen just for, you know...historical perspective. Just to know what alternative radio sounded like in the early Reagan era before everyone became 'concerned parents' and started acting like Catholic school headmistresses all the fucking time.
Capn's Final Word: Antiquities interesting only to the obsessed. I can do with First Four Years and Damaged just fine.
Everyone always likes to talk about the strong Black Sabbath influence the Flag had right about this time, but that's like saying something has an 'Isaac Hayes' influence if it has a wah-wah pedal, or has a Jimi Hendrix influence if there's some feedback, a Chef Emeril influence if it makes your ass wider than a Ford Excursion, or a Condoleezza Rice influence if it makes you want to jam sharpened No. 2 pencils up into your eyesockets while running around a church parking lot puking up blood and singing 'LET ME SEE THAT THAAWWWNNNNGGGGG!!!' at cheese-curdling volumes. But this Sabbath thing....man, I listen to Ozzy-era Sabbath probably three times a week on the half-hour ride home from work, always at make-em-close-their-windows-two-lanes-over volumes (yup, I admit I'm right up there in the pantheon of road assholes, but I paid good money for my stereo, and if I want to hear 'Hole in the Sky' at jet-taking-off volumes, by Christ that's just what my fingers are gonna dial up, dig?) Yeah, Sabbath played murffly, loud riffs, sometimes slowly (though not usually as slowly as a lot of people complain they do), and Greg Ginn plays the same way here, but it just is not the same animal. I'm not gonna rehash my near-worshipful feelings towards the first six Sab albums (I will admit, though, that the more I listen the more I hate the first one, and the more I think nos. 3-5 are pure classics), but laying the claim that whenever metal falls below a certain bpm or has guitar tones closer to ditchwater than Evian, it's suddenly worthy of Tony Iommi, is ridiculous. Anyway, only side 2 is really the only part that's anywhere close at all to heavy metal, and it pretty well blows ass. Each of the three songs is a mondo-plodder over six minutes in length and featuring a four-note riff played in unison with the bassline. Yup, the band had lost bassist Dukowski in the interim following Damaged (he began to help with SST full time), so for War Ginn took over all the basswork (credited to Dale Nixon, who's an asshole. I met him at a record show once. He kicked me in the shin and made off with the Bobby and the Midnites bootleg I was going to buy.), and he pretty much plays everything the exact same way as the guitar part, except only on one string. Drummer Robo had also left, replaced here by Descendent Bill Stevenson, who sounds somewhat less capable of keeping a beat than a paralyzed bull walrus attempting to operate an electric can opener. Rollins, now grown into Big Boy pants in Anyhow, sitting through the endless second side of this album pretty much separates the people who are into Black Flag for cool music and just the ones with not-so-deeply set man-crushes on Henry Rollins. I find it unbearable, and this coming from a guy who likes the Swans, Galaxie 500, and some of the Melvins. Go figure.
The first side isn't any great walk through Central Park, either, but it doesn't quite embarrass me so much when people walk by my office door here at Splooge Environmentalist Conslutting in Richardson Text-ass. Of course, all the left-brainer Type A's I work with can't digest any music while they're busily figuring out exciting new bureaucratic triple-lutz backflips they can try out on the next multi-million dollar oil refinery contract that comes down the pike. I love 'em all, god bless 'em, and they seem to tolerate the inordinate amount of shitty music I'm always playing over and over again until I get up the courage, the energy, and the free time necessary to pinch off another one of these opaque gems I call album reviews for you, Dear Peruser. Such as this, one of my best-ever reviews, for an album I find irritating and juvenile as hell, a bunch of ex-teenagers attempting to scratch their way out of a backwards, uberconservative hardcore scene that they helped create using pretension and unfettered self-absorption as their only utensils. You know what I just sat through? 'Swinging Man'...wotta fucking lot of rotten snotpolish that was. I guess its purpose is to act as a sort of gateway through to the shitball second side, hmm? 'My War' is okayish in a repetitively cockrocking, simpleton way, featuring Rollins' new jock vocal style. 'YER WUNNA DEM!!' is pretty fist pumping, I suppose, moreso than the one about Rollins smiling to avoid human contact (interesting, but he insists on making the same point about three dozen times. I swear, as of now these guys are more repetitive than rave night at Rain Man's house.) 'Beat My Head' and 'I Love You' both have pretty cool guitar sounds, which for some reason remind me of early Heart. God only knows, as Brian Wilson said when his wife asked where all the coke, porn, and pizza disappeared to. There's little surprise for me to learn that 'My War' and 'I Love You' were both written by Dukowski, leaving the inevitable conclusion that Ginn and Rollins had three years off and were only able to produce seven songs for this thing. Christ, I mean...Tupac Shukur comes out with a new full CD-length release at least once a year, and he's been dead for almost ten years! What's these fools' excuse?
Really, either a pleasantly mediocre first side ruined by a horrendous stylistic exercise on the second, if you're a 'Black Flag is Half Full' guy, or a complete derailment with a couple of listenable tracks somehow snuck onto the first side, if you're a 'Black Flag is half empty' dude. The fact remains clear - this Black Flag is only half there. Ginn can't write alone, and Rollins can't write (yet(?)), and the rhythm section is absolutely horrendous. It's clear - Rollins plus Greg Ginn minus Dukowski and Robo does not equal Damag. It equals Dam, as in God Dam! How much did I waste on this fucking piece of crap again?
Capn's Final Word: I've discussed way more about this album than it deserves, or that it ever says about itself. Not wittily ironic, just stupid as fuc.
Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I used to like this a lot more back when I was depressed, where it soundtracked a lot of long, lonely, lugubrious walks to the Pizza Hut alone and back, but now it sounds really labored. One problem: Bill Stevenson. He's really at his worst throughout the LP, and he's really a great drummer, so it's sad to hear him muck up the material here with his sloppy playing.
Another: Greg Ginn. This LP marks the beginning of Ginn's descent into paranoid, potheaded egomania and self-indulgence, but on some of the tracks, he manages to rein himself in and deliver an overwhelmingly precise and heavy punch. Pity that the man couldn't make a bass sound good. I maintain that if Dukowski had been playing on this LP...well, if Chuck the Duke had been fully involved with this one and then left, this would be a lot better than it is.
Last: Henry Rollins. Shit, that's everyone on the record! Henry's trouble is that he's lost a lot of the vocal quality that made "Damaged" so terrifying. He now sounds quite buffoonish at times, where on "Damaged" his rasping scream could have ground up glass. Still, his newfound psychotic howl works very well on some - though not all - of the songs.
Plus, almost everything here was done better on the 1982 demos. But there are still times when I'm in the mood for this mound of sludge, and so I'll give it a B because of "My War," "Can't Decide," "I Love You," "Forever Time," "Nothing Left Inside" (on a good day), and "Scream." Admittedly, that's most of the record, but the other tracks, well, suck pretty bad when I'm not in the mood.
My final verdict is that this is pretty good, better than what Ryan gave it, but that I can certainly see where he's coming from. If you really want to listen to this kind of toxic heaviness done correctly, listen to Flipper. They had all the self-loathing this LP has, and they were also far heavier and genuinely funny at times.
Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I like this album alot. Of course I liked it a lot more when I was a total raging mad-at-life fuck head in 84 (I'm 43 now),but Flag was about trying differnt things...where many of their contemporaries just reworked the same old shit with different lyrics. And God knows it beats the endless monotony of some of their later stuff.
Allright, now anybody who might somehow come to the conclusion that I might like an album with one side of Henry Rollins channeling Jim Morrison circa the Big Fat Drunken Fucker Years doing the poetry slam thang with material influenced by the Angst for Eighth Graders poetry manual and the other side Greg Ginn sightreading Judas Priest guitar tab with his new bass player (Kira, who is actually an awesome bassist, and who later went onto marry Mike Watt of the Minutemen probably the one person in all of Southern California who could've given her a run for her four-string abilities) has me confused with someone who doesn't use brake cleaner as breath freshener. The jams are, erm....'interesting' being the most non-committal word I can come up with at this point, considering that the very last thing I want to do is commit to having anything to do with this stuff again. Listen...Greg Ginn was every bit as much of a poseur as Henry Rollins was. He wanted to be a guitar hero, be taken seriously by all of his 'peers' like his heroes Jerry Garcia, Billy Gibbons, and Tony Iommi were. On Family Man he wants to play Guitar Hero so goddamn much he actually sounds as if he might be wearing a day-glo Spandex body suit and utility belt while he plays. Literally, and I mean this seriously, the results sound like my first excursions with a four-track tape recorder. To discuss it much more would probably make me lose respect for myself. Quite literally one of the most amateurish stretches of music from a 'well-respected' band. To disagree with me seriously just brands you with an IDIOT tag. Ginn was not a genius, he was not a very good guitar player (how many of his lines on Family Man can you remember within three seconds of them escaping his fingers? Why can't he ever shut the fuck up and let his rhythm section play for a few seconds? What's with all the reliance on single-string lines? Why are the tones here so irritating?), and he does not have some magic key to 'artistic exemption from criticism' simply because he was DIY. Listen, one of the tenets of punk rock, at least as I understand it, is to fight against this kind of grandstanding me-first bullshit. Wasn't 1977 supposed to have killed the idea of the guitar hero? If so, why do we need an entire side of self-indulgent, tuneless masturbation by anybody, much less one of the more important 'punk' bands in history?
Henry Rollins...let's just leave it like this - at one point, the man actually says 'you never invite me to any of your parties, to a movie, to go BOWLING'. Now, I'm sure the International Gay Bowling Association did a little joy-hop in their rented shoes at that mention, but what I hear is what typically comes out of the mouths of ugly fat girls who whine too much to have any friends, and instead write this kind of 'shocking' observationalist poetry about dying slugs and people as rats and other kinds of retarded schoolgirl mischief. His self-pity goes far beyond simply pathetic - he actually makes me want to physically injure him at certain points of his performance, just so he would actually have something tangible to whine about rather than the usual 'big rich white man treat everyone like scum' mouth dysentery that unimaginative brickheads like him always fall back on. At one point ('let your fingers do the walking') he begins to pitch some sort of a epileptic fit that may have been, at some base, perverted level, an attempt at rapping. Do you have no decency whatsoever, sir?
This record is the kind of thing that people forget about when they spout off about Black Flag being a 'great band'. No, guys. Black Flag is actually a terrible band who had a year of good luck. Damaged was a good record, but My War was shit. Family Man is worse than shit, and their next three records aren't gonna shake the averages any, dig? I mean, as much as you may love the six minutes of the Jealous Again EP, here's five times the length of that one in pure, unadulterated, offensive, childish, bratty, wanky garbage. If you want to ban me from the ranks of the Punk United Congress for badmouthing the most inconsistent band in all of the West Coast, go right ahead. I'll be laughing as you nod knowingly at Henry Rollins describing in hushed tones the pool of vagrant piss he slipped in outside his apartment door last week. We ARE that pool of urine, man. Dig it.
Capn's Final Word: And pass me another guitar solo.
Your Rating: F
Any Short Comments?: How *could* they do this to me? This may be one of the absolute worst albums I've ever heard...almost comparable to "John Gavanti" in levels of pure awfulness.
The cover might deceive you into thinking it's good, because it's the best Ray Pettibon illustration he ever contributed. The father shooting his entire family after Kennedy's assasination...it's gripping, unlike anything - and I do mean anything - else here.
I actually do like exactly one thing on here, one of the Rollins tracks, "Salt On A Slug," cause it's kind of funny. The rest of this verbal vomit can be very safely classified as "sub-retarded drool." It honestly sounds like what might happen if Fred Durst got into spoken word. Just embarrassing and laughable, and not in a good way.
The Ginn and Co. side is honestly some of the worst noise ever recorded. Greg's guitar sounds like a flea on acid shrieking inside a sardine can. His lobotomized/epileptic/stump-fingered '80's metal soloing style, which can be really cool sometimes, is at it's absolute worst all over this album. (Note: I really like Greg when he's good, but...he's not here. At all.) And since he's an egomaniac control freak, he doesn't stop soloing ONCE and let his rhythm section do anything. They just have to chug along under him. I feel sorry for Bill and Kira. I feel sorry for anyone involved with this record.
Funnily enough, the worst song on here is the one where they put Hank's infantile puking together with Greg and Co.'s atonal shitpile.
This album hurts my internal organs and I'm now going to go listen to "Highway 61 Revisited," "Revolver," and "Kind of Blue" to hear some real music after deleting this chemical waste from my hard drive. "Family Man" isn't an accurate title. "Violent Masturbation" is.
Slip It In
- SST 1984
Okay, so here's the question - and I want you to answer this one seriously: When the Black Flag suck, as they did on My War and Family Man, and they do quite often on Slip It In, are they being ironic, or are they really just that awful? Even more importantly, does it even fucking matter? I guess I just don't belong to the generation that could listen to a song like 'Slip It In' (essentially a five-minute repetition of the line 'She said she didn't want it and then she...she....slipped it in' covered in horrifyingly unsexy girlie screaming and moaning) and find it entertaining, even in that detatched Nineties ironic poseur way that got us all listening to the motherfucking Barenaked Ladies for a year there. So Family Man was put out 'just to piss off the punks'? Fantastic. They could've performed a concert of Foghat covers that would've covered the same bases, but instead they put out an album and keep it in press for twenty years. Besides the fact that jokes are always better when they're funny, and Black Flag is about as funny as a cigarette being put out on your eyeball.
Alright, so Slip It In maybe isn't as bad as all that. It sure doesn't have any useless jams on it, and besides the laughable drone track 'Rat's Eyes' (boy, Rollins sure likes his rodents. First he's a rat and now he sees the world through 'rat's eyes', whatever the fuck that means. Something tells me that bald fucker from Smashing Pumpkins would probably be able to relate to this goddamn song. Anyhow, I'm still a bit mad he kept me waiting for his much-anticipated 'Chinchilla Trilogy'. Maybe on the next Rollins Band album, pleeeeaaszzeeee? *crosses fingers and begins saving urine in bottles*), mostly stays away from tuneless grinding. In fact, if you turn your brain most of the way off, a lot of it actually works as a sort of cock-rock riff-o-matic testosterone trip. The rhythm section has been kicked in the ever-loving solar plexus by the inclusion of Kira Roessler, making many of the rhythm parts interesting for once. Tempos crank up and down, styles shift from thrash to punk-shuffle and back (let's face it...this band never had more than two styles it was capable of anyhow), and, umm...I guess parts of it rock pretty good. What the fuck? It ain't goddamn brain surgery, and I want to make damn sure everyone realize that Greg Ginn isn't doing anything mysterious with his riffs or guitar work here. If we were to hear a riff like 'Obliteration' on, say, a Rush album, all the 'knowledgeable music fans' would line up in the front row and laugh them off the stage. Or if some middlebrow guitar player like, oh I dunno...one of the guys from Ratt began to solo like Ginn does, people would think he'd contracted some sort of brain infection or something. Only complete assholes have the audacity to actually call the kind of choked wanking Ginn attempts on the second side of this album as 'jazzy'. Listen...he's learned to play faster and with more distortion and compression than he used to use. He hasn't fucking sprouted Improv talent and become John Coltrane, understand? Listen, I'm not against soloing by anybody per se, and I'm not some technically obsessed snot-nose who'd say something like 'if you can't play it right, don't play at all'. What my point is is that Greg Ginn stands up there on his little three-year old indie cred pedestal and ejaculates all over his audience, and they turn around and thank him, calling him a 'fearless' lead guitar player and an 'avante garde' guru and kissing his dorkus potheaded feet. I'm calling bullshit on it. I dont give a fuck that Black Flag abandoned the strictures of punk rock, either from a punkist didactic point of view or from any other. I care that everyone seems to pat them on the back for making the same terrible, stupid, self-indulgent, unimaginative, messy crap music that they crucify hair metal and prog bands for doing, just because they don't wear the right clothes or put 'dangerous' images on their record covers.
So I guess as a hard rock album, this is pretty passable in sections, though I wouldn't go turning in my Blue Oyster Cult albums just yet. The riffs smell a little musty, or, like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sendup chugalug of 'You're Not Evil' (or is this just more irony? Any more of this irony shit and I'll need to take a laxative. It all makes me wonder what Black Flag would sound like if they actually played it straight, considering they never seem to want to do that anymore.), so close a sendup of the real thing you wonder if Ginn actually just stole a bunch of them. I suppose I'll give him credit for coming up with a few good ones on his own - 'Black Coffee' is just a great song with a big Motorhead feel and a killer line - 'Drinking black coffee! Stare at the walls!' Hey...how do they know what I do all day at work, besides writing ranting reviews of their shitball record albums? Heh. 'Wound Up' feels like a Nervous Breakdown throwback, and if I may be so bold, probably is the kind of music Black Flag should be playing all the time. It makes good use of Rollins' rambunctiousness and their rhythm sections newfound balls, and, man...it's just a great metal tune. Now that's refreshing - two undeniably good tunes on a Black Flag album. They don't sustain over the second half, and the opening 'Slip it In' is just embarrassing, but if you want to see it as a small sign of life, I guess you could.
Okay, my final point re: Black Flag's alleged 'irony' is this - it's a well-known fact that Greg and Henry were pretty considerable metal and hard rock fans, so when they play this way, it's a pretty big stretch to think they're 'ironically' sending up some of their favorite music each and every time. I think it's preposterous to assume that every time the two of them play something offensive, or stupidly simplistic, or bungle a style completely, that they're just 'being ironic' and that if given the chance, they could, you know, record their own version of Master of Reality or whatever. These guys have major limitations and very small imaginations, and though they take any chance given them to grandstand and make big, poofy asses of themselves, they aren't nearly talented enough to hang with the groups they 'parodize' all the time. And about Family Man being just a big fucking joke - if this were really the case, why did Ginn and Rollins both revert to these default styles when first starting their solo careers after the Flag broke up? Were they being 'ironic' then? Is Rollins playing a 'joke' every time he does a spoken word gig, and was Ginn's stint in Gone just another 'fuck you to the punks'? I think the answer is obvious, and the worshipful in the temple simply don't care to see it - their idols are a bunch of artsy fumblers who bear more resemblance to Rick Wakeman than Rick Hell in their desires to hear themselves wank.
Capn's Final Word: Mostly just dumb cock rock, which...believe me....is some sort of improvement.
Mike Your Rating: D+
Any Short Comments?: This isn't any kind of improvement on "My War." It's awful. Solid production makes it all much more listenable, but the performances are turgid and lifeless. The evil and oily intro to "Slip It In" is ruined by Rollins and future member of L-7 Suzy Gardner's tacky vocals, the lyrics were always sodden with misogyny and clunky verbiage, and the outro is just cheesy, nauseating sexism masquerading as satire.
"Black Coffee" is good and pissed off, but most of the rest of these are just awful. "Rat's Eyes" is horrendous, "Wound Up," "Obliteration," and "You're Not Evil" are just as bad, "The Bars" is a rewrite of "Slip It In" musically with stupid lyrics, and "You're Not Evil" takes seven minutes to say absolutely nothing. Only "My Ghetto" packs any kind of punch, though Rollins' vocal buffoonery drains it of a lot. "My War" sounds like manna from heaven compared to this heap of shit.
Live '84 -
Sounds like absolute assmonkey, which I suppose is a shame because the Flag live were a helluva lot more focused and pure-rockingly blissful than when they were left to stuff each others asses full of big fat smooches in the studio. I guess it's a lot harder to be fashionably 'ironic' when you have several hundred hungry freaks (daddy) staring down the barrel at ya. Nope, onstage you keep the songs quick, short, and covered in gorgeous feedback, or you're gonna find your van tires slashed, your guitar splintered, and your bass player chased up an oak tree. It sounds absolutely ace for about 10 minutes, then it starts to all sound a bit fucking repetitive, which is par for the course for the Flag, I guess. The mix is extremely Ginn-heavy (no surprise there), though thankfully he keeps his terrible James-Williamson-with-a-railroad-spike-in-his-skull soloing nonsense in check most of the time, and Henry Rollins sure sounds better when you can't hear the idiotic lyrics he's spewing ('Slip It In' magically becomes...a decent song!). 'Black Coffee' lasts about three fucking hours, though, and the My War material towards the end of the concert drags the hairy beast down to an absolute crawl. 'Swinging Man' is still one of the absolute worst tracks I've ever heard, and anyone who makes it through 'Rat's Eyes' without shutting their fucking stereo off gets a gold star from me.
Still, impressive to a point - this one shows that Black Flag could've been, with smaller egos and wittier material, a reasonable replacement for the aging Ramones in the mid-80's. Instead their incessant bratty extravagances ensured that they were the kings of the too-cool Boho crowd and since every Dick, Dick, and Dick got to see them play between here and Walla Walla Washington, they got the reputation as indie rock 'stalwarts' rather than the fuck ups they really were. Ah well, I guess this was the same band that put out Damaged three years earlier, and at least some of that precision-guided danger was retained. Thank God.
Capn's Final Word: Black Flag remember they were once Ramones enthusiasts, and turn down Rollins' mic. Good moves, both.
- SST 1985
More metallic, dumbass jocky sexism than even Slip it In was. I'm so sick and fucking tired of the 'ironic' cop-out I'm not even going to mention it this time - on Loose Nut, Black Flag attempts to play party heavy metal like what their idols did and come out sounding leaden, processed, and flat-out of ideas. Besides - Black Flag making a 'fun' record? How do you think that would come out? They've played so many of their cards already that the only one left is to sound like a "Mutt" Lange remix of themselves with lots of shouted choruses and 'big' box chords that signal 'now we's a-rockin'!' Except they're absolutely not doing any such thing. Ginn's sexist dick-obsessed panting is beginning to nauseate (I want to hear the sex fantasies of a doofus like Ginn about as much as I want Al Jourgenson's advice on home decor), and his guitar playing is now crossed into complete rudiment. He plays it like a three-year old swings a t-ball bat, in any random direction, without much thought, and in any direction he sees fit...except in his own mind he's Ken Griffey, Jr. The rhythm section has been reigned so far in by control-freak Ginn they sound full-on robotic on tracks like 'Best One Yet' (not very fucking likely, Mr. Garfield), and the 'melodies' aren't anything more than the same tired chord sequences Ginn's been repeating since Nervous Breakdown. Dukowski's 'Modern Man' fails at channeling Paranoid, 'I'm the One' can't seem to get anywhere with its riff, and 'Sinking' sounds like Rollins being nipple-tortured by Funkadelic's drummer.
The best track is also the only one that seems to have anything at all to do with the 'I'm fucked up, you're fucked up' vibe of Damaged, and that's the self-hate anthem 'This is Good'. It's set to a sort of herky-jerk happy-joy guitar riff that sounds like something off Japanese daytime television, and Ginn gets into the whole fucked-up thing with an equally cartoonish solo. In an album full of slothy generic metal Quaaludes, this little sniff of glue is very welcome. I mean, this shit's outta gas, stalled by the side of the road slow. Really, a terrible waste considering all the good weed that Ginn and folks were smoking at the time. Besides - doncha think if you were to listen to Dio's Holy Diver album as much as they were, some of it would rub off on you? I guess they make a half-assed attempt at the chugging riff classicism on 'Now She's Black', but like most of Flag's material, it's just a big, fat, indulgent failure.
Capn's Final Word: 'Artistic growth' is what Ginn calls his phallus, apparently. I've heard trained monkeys and Belgians make better metal than this phlegm.
The 'weeding out' they're talking about here is precisely what it sounds like - Greg Ginn and his rhythm section smoking enough bud to make Dave Chapelle look like Bob Dole at a Daughters of the American Revolution convention, a complete submission to the deadening powers of daily marijuana use and the emotional . In the long term this meant complete disassociation between Ginn and the decidedly non-THC-friendly Rollins followed by the guitarist's retreat into claustrophobic instrumentalism with his band Gone, but in the short term it meant getting blasted and jamming nigh-atonally (and all-instrumentally) for 26 minutes and calling it an EP. Ginn's approach towards music had begun to cool by 1985 into a detached academicism, a sort of drugged-out smug self assurance that made for interesting textures but not a lot of the ol' punk communal spirit. I suppose in the grand scheme of Black Flag jams, this stuff on Weeding for sure beats out the far-more useless instrumental side of Family Man and, you know, might actually hold interest for certain people who dig burbling noise jams from time to time. I know for sure that Nirvana made use of a certain 'falling-down-the-stairs' superfast guitar line first heard on 'Your Last Affront' on their Bleach album, and Sonic Youth owes a lot to some of the dive-bombing that Ginn sprays all over this record. If it sounds like I'm finally giving Gin a blowjob review after half a dozen hatchet jobs that essentially called his guitar playing sloppy enough to drive the poop out of my cat's ass like St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, it's because I am, in a half-hearted way. This album still bores me silly after several minutes, but I think for once I can actually begin to buy the fact that Ginn is becoming somewhat more free-jazzy in his playing. That is to say, he plays as if he knows what his next line is going to sound like before he goes slamming it out of his axe, and that's a mighty big step to make. No, he's still not speaking in a 'language' like true jazz improvisers are able to do, formulating 'sentences' and 'paragraphs' with his playing that formulate into a cohesive hole, but he is able to pull off some sections that actually seem to, you know, communicate something. The rhythm section putters its little heart out trying to keep up, but Bill Stevenson is still more fit for playing 'My War' than channeling Tony Williams by way of the Bad Brains. All in all, a far more satisfying experience than most of the recent Black Flag 'issuances', simply because it doesn't split hairs, there's not a damn thing ironic about it, and it's dead serious. Not to mention that Ginn doesn't get to verbalize the nonstop perverted woman-hating mouth-breathing sex-starved picture show in his head this time around, either.
Capn's Final Word: Instrumental free jazz that doesn't make Ginn sound like an amateurish egoiste. This time.
Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Unreservedly boring. The "Weeding Out" also refers to weeding out and removing Rollins and their fans who wouldn't like this one. AKA: The fans who wouldn't put up with Greg's egomaniacal bullshit anymore. If you can sometime, read the liner notes to this, which Ginn wrote. It's hilarious. I paraphrase: "I have faith that cop-types, with their strictly linear minds, won't be able to divulge the intuitive contents of this record." Um, Greg, put down the pen - and the guitar, for that matter - and back slowly away.
If you want to hear this jazz-punk real-time improvising done correctly, pick up a Fugazi live bootleg. If not, buy the first Gone album - this record.
Item for discussion: the Minuteflag EP is neither the Minutemen or Black Flag, nor is this Jimmy Buffet's-tied-up-in-the-closet-receiving-electric-shocks-every-10-seconds ethnic atonal prissy asshole weekend's jackoff music worth an everloving shit in the wind.
The first word of the day is Double Nickels on the Dime. The second word is Post-Mersh and it has three volumes.
Capn's Final Word: No-cover charge Tehran discos have better music on rainy Sunday afternoons than this record has.
For all the talk of the massive rift in Black Flag between the cold, professorial, sexist pothead Ginn on one side and the raging, antisocial arty-farty poetry musclehead Rollins on the other as their career sputtered to a halt, their final full-length sneaks in as the second best release of their career. In My Head represents a sort of truce between the tired ridiculous phallussongs of Loose Nut and Slip It In and the avant garde Weeding Out material, ending up as what I can't really describe any better than architectural metal. The riffs are still highly repetitive and, you know, not particularly rocking, but they're given certain rhythmic nuances and staccato inflections that make them sound almost like a cross between a saxophone and a keyboard. It's interesting, and even respectable, but like much of the Sonic Youth pretento-punk that followed in its wake, is generally unlovable. Rollins is curiously muted and sunk into the mix throughout, but that's just daisies and roses and sunshine for somebody who often finds the guy to be one step away from being a Depeche Mode-worshipping, lardass goth chick at heart. I've grown so tired of Rollins' clumsy tough-guy delivery of Ginn's clumsy tough-guy lyrics in the last couple of days, the very last goddamn thing I feel like doing is attempting to figure out what these fools were trying to 'say' on this record - how much of it was ironic, how much of it was just mouth diahhrea, and how much of it was scribbled down on a cocktail napkin during a piss break in the recording studio. I really just don't care anymore. It's never about the lyrics with bands like this anyway - it's about the level of the performance. In fact, hidden way behind all this angular riffing, Rollins actually sounds far more legitimately menacing on tracks like "Black Love" than he has since 'Damaged II', and I still don't know what he's off about. No doubt he just got home from the dry cleaners, and ended up getting heavy starch in his dress shirts instead of the light starch he asked for, and he's fit to spit as a result. You know, there's really only so many humorlessly lazy jabs at a bloated society a man can take before he wants to put on something truly subversive, like ABBA's 'Then I Kissed the Teacher', and bliss out on the fangs of Sweden's finest.
Allright. In My Head's all very dark, yet very detached in its anger, and a song like 'In My Head', a direct descendent of 'My War', except without as many 4-floor barre chords becomes almost a clinical exercise. The one track that seems to break out of this shell of detachment is 'Drinking and Driving', a scathing attack on Motley Crue's Vince Neil for murdering the Hanoi Rocks drummer in a drunken car wreck. Then the second side seems to crack a smile and play some goofy rock 'n' roll ('Retired at 21', 'Society's Tease') to drive the final spike into the band's dark heart. The rest of the songs seem to be about sex, for all I can tell, but this is the least sexy music I can think of with the possible exception of Kansas' Leftoverture. Really, each song is about a riff, and how precisely and acidically the Black Flag band can play it. Maybe it's not quite cuddly, and it sure as living fuck isn't punk rock as most people recognize it, but this is a far more rock and roll statement than the post-Damaged band made in half a million previous tries.
Capn's Final Word: Cold bud-metal that's as cuddly as a straight razor. It sure as shit ain't punk, but they've not been punk since Dukowski left the band.
Second live album in as many years, this one coming from, most likely, the tour behind Loose Nut, considering how many crotch-grabbing, sister-molesting, mouth-slobbering, body-odoring paeons to the badly formed male sexual psyche are on display here. This is definitely a better recording than Live '84 was, though I'm not so sure it actually sounds better. Instead of being 40 minutes of Greg Ginn standing within two inches of your face, this one sounds like the band are being recorded in a bathroom. Ginn's guitar is off in the background of speaker left like he used to be on the studio recordings, the drums seem to fly from all directions from the stereo spectrum. Well, I think it's really fake sounding and an unpleasant way of hearing this band, who would probably be best served being recorded by a single overhead mic like a symphony orchestra or the guy who plays Mahler using only the vibrations of his body parts.
Alright, after Fred Astaire-ing my way around it like a doily-sissy butt for an entire paragraph, I'll say it - this performance sucks. Sucks the skin right off of Courtney Cox's Skeletor-esque bone structure. No, Ginn doesn't act like an egomaniac guitar hero. No, the band doesn't degenerate into sheer noise. No, Kira doesn't pull out a shiv made from a sharpened bass E-string and plunge it into Henry's jugular vein as he pulls into the fifteenth identical swing through the verse of 'Annihilate This Week'. In fact, not much happens at all. The band sounds absolutely drained of all steam, as if none of them really care to be there. Ginn, (who apparently had already played for an hour with the opening act) misses cues and notes left and right, and not, you know, where people wouldn't care or wouldn't notice. We're talking about chomping the very first time you play the main riff of a song. Imagine if Jimmy Page were to have stood up and played 'Duh Duh Duh-Duh *Croonnkk!*-akkukka-bomp-akukka-bomp' or Ritchie Blackmore screwing the pooch with a poorly timed 'dowt dowt *FAWANK* dowt *FICKKA WICCKY* Dowt dowwt!' You'd get pissed off/ask for your money back/toss your beer at the stage/call the Enquirer and report crippling drug addiction/let the airs out of the tour bus tires/sell all your dragon-emblazoned black silk pajamas and Crowely Do-It-Yourself Corpse Desecration Kits (Now with real llama's blood and a coupon for a free visit by archdemon Gaelaraeth to the home of an enemy of your choice!). You'd, you know, at least acknowledge that all was not right with your rock star, and seek more information to determine what had happened to his talent. Well, Ginn fucks up just as heinously, except he's got his Punk Superhero Shield of no one ever criticizing it when he has a lifeless night because, dammit...He's DIY-Man! He's bulletproof! Whatever mistakes he made, he's making them ironically anyway...isn't that it? It's all a big comment on the burgeois dream of having rock and roll 'not blow harder than Hurricaine Charlie' And when he plays lazy, like he doesn't give a living fuck about his audience or his band? No, then he's just being an asshole.
Man, this is just a really, really boring live album to my ears. The only time it begins to look up is when Henry goes off on bassist Kira during the 'filthy joke' section of 'Gimme Gimme Gimme' for, I dunno, giving him girl cooties or whatever (yes - she's the one with the 10 1/2, in case it took any brains to figure that out considering she's the best musician in this fucking human cesspool of a band. In Henry's case, her talent is a threat, and he makes reference to her 'fucking' guys. Wotta understanding guy, that big teddy bear. Isn't he about 20 years late for a job a). Henry's still an absolute asswipe of a person, the new drummer is partially competent with a small side of absolutely fucking terribleYes, these are the sounds of a band winding down to a sad whimper of a halt. I don't need to witness this more than once, you know, but it's still always neat to see the black, bile-filled heart of a rock band laid bare before you. Believe me, Black Flag was made up of a bunch of complete assholes. Reading Rollins' Get in the Van, I'm mostly struck by what a Christ figure that twerp is constantly making himself out to be. Sure, living in a van for five years isn't much fun, and I'm sure the lack of food and sleep took a toll, but FUCKING JESUS, YOU AREN'T IN A GODDAMN CONCENTRATION CAMP. Quit fucking whining about how nobody understands you, man! Rollins, like many middlebrow talents, thinks he's special, but he blames the world for its inability to sympathize with his never-ending plight (rather than, say, his complete lack of articulation or ability to express himself in a way that doesn't make him come across as slightly less warm and friendly than John Wayne Gacy). Henry Rollins (and Greg Ginn, for whom he was pretty much just a mouthpiece) feels like the world owes him something, that it's not good enough for him or his 'big thoughts', and it comes out in his contemptuous performances. It's an awful business, Henry, but no one ever told you you couldn't just shut the fuck up about it.
Capn's Final Word: Second live album from the band that had begun to hate itself more than I hate it. The fun left long ago, fellas.
Mike Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: Ehh, this is boring...Ginn sounds like someone chopped off part of his index finger and Rollins' voice is in the pit. Anthony Martinez is mostly trying to stay on the beat without fucking up, making me actually miss Bill Stevenson - though his Black Flag style wasn't my cup of tea all the time, he was at least interesting. (He's better in the Descendents by far - great drumming there.) Only Kira really shines here, but she was always the best musician Black Flag ever had, and a bad performance out of her would have really been the shits.
Re: Rollins/Kira stuff...Henry and Kira had dated and broken up before she joined the band. You could probably imagine why they might have problems with each other...I mean, would you want to be in a band with your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend?
Still, though, I think even Kira regards the 10 1/2 stuff as being a joke on cock rock (for once, unlike the "Slip It In" dribble...I mean, Rollins introduces himself by saying he's got a one-inch dick and Greg by saying he's got a two-incher...that's got to be a joke).
But, really, Black Flag had outlived themselves by this time, and I'm glad they didn't put any more of this crap out. This album isn't very good.