Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Black Flag, part I.

Black Flag- ‘Damaged’

So Henry Rollins joins Black Flag and then the band goes into the studio to record ‘Damaged’ shortly thereafter. And it kinda shows. This album is great, no doubt about it- there’s all the stuff on the first side, the really incendiary songs that had been staples at the live shows, like ‘Rise Above,’ ‘Police Story,’ and ‘Six Pack’ that were as catchy and anthemic as the band had been up to that point (all that stuff continues to sound vital to me circa: now, as well.) Thing is, though, that there’s very little in the way of dynamism in Henry’s vocals. The second half of this record wanes drastically as he yowls his way through his then three-note vocal range, occasionally hitting two per song. By the time ‘Damaged II’ rolls around, I’m all like ‘next.’

Black Flag- ‘My War’

The next record in the Flag chronology, released two years after ‘Damaged.’ By then, of course, the band had several LP’s worth of material written and ready to go (there was a court injunction that prevented them from releasing anything, as a result of a botched distribution deal with Unicorn/RCA.)
Henry is a way, way better singer on ‘My War’- the band’s exhaustive tour schedule gave his voice more strength and range. The first side doesn’t deviate too much from the more upbeat (if you wanna call ‘em that) numbers on ‘Damaged’- midtempo-to-fast, standard Ginn guitar pyrotechnics, solid rhythm (it should be noted that this is the album on which the mighty Dale Nixon plays bass- all hail Dale!)
The second side is the killer. Much as I love all the stuff on side one, I’ve totally gotta give it up for ‘Nothing Left Inside,’ ‘Three Nights’ and (to a lesser extent) ‘Scream.’ Again, they hadn’t released an album in two years, right- two years of touring without something new- and what do they do? They record this album, half of which takes the whole notion of punk rock and throws it out the window. Three heavy, thudding, plodding songs- you can practically hear the entire Pacific Northwest sparking up and nodding along the first time they flipped the vinyl over. Huge stones, HUGE. The band had long hair and beards and were totally telling ‘the scene’ to go fuck themselves- by then they must have logged way more miles than anyone (except maybe for DOA) and didn’t owe anyone a damn thing. Amazing.

Black Flag- ‘Slip It In’

The classic Greg/Henry/Stevenson/Kira lineup is in effect here- some amazing songs (‘Slip It In’ continues to do the trick, as do ‘Black Coffee’ and ‘The Bars.’) Some of the best recording and performances that the band ever had, too- the recording levels are such that every member of the band is clearly audible (though I wish there was a little bit more low end in the drums.) It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for my continued ambivalence about this record- I don’t have any real reason to dislike this album, aside from the few cuts that tend to be a little bit wanky and drag ass all over the place (They can’t be serious about ‘Rat’s Eyes,’ can they? It’s all a joke, right?) but pretty much every Flag record has such an incidence. Maybe it’s because this is the last of the band’s LP’s I picked up, I don’t know- it’s the one that has the relative dishonor of being my least highly regarded Flag LP.

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