BLACK FLAG: IN MY HEAD (1985)
1) Paralyzed; 2) The Crazy Girl; 3) Black Love; 4) White Hot; 5) In My Head; 6) Out Of This World; 7) I Can See You; 8) Drinking And Driving; 9) Retired At 21; 10) Society's Tease; 11) It's All Up To You; 12) You Let Me Down.
Surprise — for the first time... ever?, here is a Black Flag album that does not sound significantly different from its predecessor. For once, the band has sort of «agreed» to the sound they had gotten going for themselves, and settled upon refining and perfecting it rather than coming up with some new radical reinvention of image. And it works: In My Head reaches a tight, well-kept balance between jazz, pop, punk, and metal, or, if you wish, between free-form experimentation, pleasant catchiness, pissed-off frustration, and brutal crunch.
The album shows Rollins receding ever farther in the dark, uncomfortable corners of his subconscious: long gone are the days when this band still used to remember that some of the world's troubles may be directly ascribed to «The System», and now Henry is busy full-time exorcising his, my, and your demons, one by one, exposing Man (the species, that is) for the inherently aggressive, sexually imbalanced, mentally challenged nature freak that he (or she) has no way of not being. Curiously, the album is occasionally said to have begun life as an instrumental venture, intended by Ginn to be released as his first solo album. But then Henry came along, listened to the tracks, and wrote a bunch of lyrics for them — and they fit in so well that the solo career was postponed. Not for long, but we do have ourselves one more Black Flag classic.
Case in point: the title track, a mix of stern martial metal with sadistic experimental soloing — Ginn trying to cross Tony Iommi with Ornette Coleman one more time — over which Henry's "I WAN-na BE the BUL-let that goes RIP-ping through your SKULL..." flies like a bunch of bullets that go ripping through your skull. It's one of those songs on which everything comes together in its right place. Yes, Rollins can be an irritating personality, and Ginn's music often comes across as meaningless noise, but every once in a while, when they put their minds and not just their guts to it, they lock together like nothing else.
Maybe the most obvious place here where they lock together like this is ʽDrinking And Drivingʼ, probably the album's most easily noticeable song — simple, repetitive, nagging riff and a chorus of provocative imperatives help it rise above everything else, at least on first listen. They had a video done for it, too, full of car crash images and other chaotic bits, so that the song can function both as a tremendous piece of anti-drunk-driving propaganda and, if you wish, a larger metaphor for the perils brought about by erratic anti-social behavior (not exactly a prime time topic for a «hardcore punk» band, but what sort of asshole would want to pigeonhole Black Flag together with, say, Agnostic Front?). The best thing about it, though, is that Ginn's twisted, atonal solos, which he usually inserts in every song regardless of its nature and purpose, are directly symbolic in this case — musically recreating chaos and catastrophe — and work in full tandem with Henry's iron-voiced "drink! drink! don't think! drive! kill!...".
Some of the songs go down really deep: ʽThe Crazy Girlʼ is stuck somewhere between nymphomania and homicidal urges as Henry fantasizes on circa-Jack the Ripper topics, and ʽBlack Loveʼ sure ain't about an innocent flirt with an Afro-American passion. Then again, you'd probably think of Jack the Ripper or even worse things, too, had you been exposed to these nasty riffs and gotten the urge to set them to appropriate lyrics. But there are also faster, simpler, «brighter» numbers that recall the old-school Black Flag of Damaged — most importantly, ʽRetired At 21ʼ, as good a slice of catchy «pop-punk» (in the good sense of the word) as the band ever came up with, and ʽIt's All Up To Youʼ, a surprisingly tight piece of production on which Bill Stevenson uses a sharper, thinner, cracklier drum tone than he usually does, making the whole thing sound atmospherically closer to classic Ramones; fans of old school punk might very well find this song to be the major highlight on the album.
There is still a small bunch of rather yawn-inducing duds (ʽWhite Hotʼ, I think, is five wasted minutes of pointless sludge), and, with a couple of exceptions, the individual songs are not amazing enough to make us forget the general black monotonousness — yet the album meets and exceeds its goals, and, on the whole, is probably the best proof that Black Flag's continued existence post-Damaged was not at all meaningless. It might have been too outrageously experimental, or too unnecessarily provocative, but meaningless, no. Thumbs up.
Check "In My Head" (CD) on Amazon
Check "In My Head" (MP3) on Amazon