BLACK FLAG: FAMILY MAN (1984)
1) Family Man; 2) Salt On A Slug; 3) Hollywood Diary; 4) Let Your Fingers Do The Walking; 5) Shed Reading (Rattus Norvegicus); 6) No Deposit – No Return; 7) Armageddon Man; 8) Long Lost Dog Of It; 9) I Won't Stick Any Of You; 10) Account For What.
Black Flag's project-number-two for the prolific year of 1984 happens to be the most universally despised Rollins-era Black Flag album, and for quite an objective reason: this is not really «Black Flag» as such, but rather two brief solo mission statements from Henry and Greg, the former reciting unaccompanied examples of his spoken-word poetry, and the latter playing a bunch of his avantgarde punk improvisations. The two cross paths in the middle of the record with ʽArmageddon Manʼ, but in an almost accidental manner — with Henry overdubbing his texts across Greg's «noodling» without any idea of voice-melody unity.
Defending Family Man would be indeed a hard task; whether you are able to like it or not will really depend on how much you like «opening your mind» to pretentious, self-consciously arrogant «groundbreaking artistic ideas» that choose shock value, provocation, and minimalism over hard work and traditional lines of inspiration. The title track quickly sets up the scene: after Rollins has informed us that "I come to infect, I come to rape your women, I come to take your children into the street, I come for you, family man!", there is little left to do other than join the man in his crusade against petty bourgeois morality — or yawn in a «oh no, not another crusade against petty bourgeois morality!» kind of way. Personally, I have nothing against such crusades in general, when it comes to artistic expression; but Henry Rollins simply does not strike me as a person who has any particularly great way with words. I mean, for that matter, didn't Patti Smith already say it all almost ten years earlier?
Out of all the other spoken-word exercises, I vaguely remember ʽSalt On A Slugʼ (where the «slug» in question, of course, is yet another metaphor for the ugly, smelly, bloated underbelly of the bourgeois society), recorded in worse quality than everything else since it seems to have been taken from some public reading (and, consequently, accompanied by rather silly laughter outbursts from the small audience present), and ʽLet Your Fingers Do The Walkingʼ, which largely consists of the title repeated over and over. Is this important? I have no idea.
As for the instrumental parts, my only comparison could be that of a headless chicken running in the yard. Many of these riffs and solos sound like they totally belong in any number of classic Black Flag tunes, but without a specific focus, usually provided by the frontman, they simply make no sense. At least the last two tracks are fast, which makes listening to them slightly less excruciating than sitting through the entire nine minutes of ʽArmageddon Manʼ (if that is what the Armageddon is supposed to look like, I am totally retiring my financial support for the Antichrist this very instant).
Of course, Family Man is yet another self-conscious «experiment» in the endless war against artistic stagnation, and could be partially redeemed by the good old «well, at least they're trying» argument. But the bottomline is that I cannot imagine anybody wanting to give the record a second spin of their own free will — in the place of, say, giving a third spin to Damaged — and if such people do exist, it is only because they probably feel themselves wronged by the family man, and take exquisite sadistic pleasure from pouring salt on slugs, be they only metaphorical ones. My own level of bourgeoiserie still allows me full well to enjoy Damaged, but sort of starts boiling over with Family Man — if you want to poke fun at conservative conventions, at least have the intelligence to poke it in an unconventional manner. As it is, I consider the experiment a failure, and give it a retrograde thumbs down.
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