BLACK FLAG: LOOSE NUT (1985)
1) Loose Nut; 2) Bastard In Love; 3) Annihilate This Week; 4) Best One Yet; 5) Modern Man; 6) This Is Good; 7) I'm The One; 8) Sinking; 9) Now She's Black.
Leave it to a band like Black Flag to have their most «normal» album in years to bear the title of Loose Nut — because, frankly speaking, it sounds like the nut in question has been tightened rather than loosened. The whole thing almost seems «commercial» when compared to the excesses and experiments of 1984. Steady beats. Relatively conventional solos. Hook-based, even catchy choruses. Structures. No spoken word «poetry» or unpredictable jazz-punk jams. Even a few fast, concise, focused, gang-chorus-led punk numbers that remind one of Damaged. What next — a dance duet between Henry and Madonna?..
Joking aside, Loose Nut seems to have received a rather tepid welcome from critics and fans alike, and I have no idea why. The most frequently voiced complaint is that the album sounds «too metallic» — but seeing as how Ginn never really placed a proper delimiter bar between «punk» and «metal», that is kind of silly, and besides, it isn't the kind of «metal» that thrashers like Metallica or Slayer were doing at the time, let alone the pop metal thing; this is Greg's standard sludgy sound, thick, gruff, and grumbly, far more in line with the punk spirit than the doom-laden, hellfire-breathing tones of the thrashers.
And there are some really strong songs on here, a couple of which I really like, despite not being a heavy subscriber to this kind of aesthetics at all. ʽSinkingʼ, for instance, which really sums up much of the grunge spirit several years before «grunge» as a phenomenon came into being — sludgy, but catchy riffs and a depressed, near-suicidal singer. To my mind, it is one of the finest moments in Greg's and Henry's history as a team, when the former's wailing solos finally become the perfectly soulful counterpart for the latter's gangrenous growls of "it hurts to be alone, it hurts to be alone...". In 1984, it seemed way too often that the two were operating on unrelated wavelengths, but on ʽSinkingʼ, and quite a few other songs on Loose Nut, they are finally getting back in touch with each other.
In a different vein, ʽBest One Yetʼ may indeed be their best one yet since Damaged — short, speedy, melodic, angry, and derisive of the band's fanbase ("you say you don't like the things I've done / you say you don't like what I've become" — well, you can preliminarily guess the verdict); again, nothing really to complain about. ʽThis Is Goodʼ latches on to a seemingly dumb, but efficient idea — cross Henry's lyrical masochism ("I smash my fist / Into my face / I can feel it when I close my eyes / And this is good...") with a «geometric» noise-jazz guitar pattern reduced to a minimal, repetitive set of chords, creating a special genre of «primitive blockhead music» which really is a convenient soundtrack for repeatedly punching your fists into the wall at moderate time intervals — and the repetitiveness of the chorus is all set here to numb the effect.
These potential highlights are nested among a slew of lesser tunes with varying degrees of likeability, but one thing is clear — the guys are still far from spent, and the album in general feels as if they almost managed to find a good balance between formula and experiment this time around. In addition, they threw in a bit of closing intrigue, with drummer Bill Stevenson's contribution, ʽNow She's Blackʼ, inciting endless discussions about whether the song is «racist» or not — although, to be honest, except for the poor word ʽblackʼ itself, there is hardly anything in the song to allude to the protagonist's girlfriend racial characteristics, and, most likely, the ʽblackʼ in question has to be taken quite figuratively; and Rollins sings it from his usual desperate madman point of view, not a KKK member or anything.
Clearly, Loose Nut is the band's most «accessible» album since Damaged; whether it should also make it their second best or not is debatable, but even if you like your Black Flag to go out on a limb, burying you under thick, endless layers of guitar dissonance and lulling you to sleep with streetwise spoken word declamations, that in itself would be no reason to accuse these guys of «selling out» when the only thing they really did here was work out a compromising style that allowed both «stars» to work on the same emotional level at the same time. Meaning another thumbs up, even if I still tend to «respect» this stuff much more than «feel» it — but then I guess that whoever cannot get his heart strings properly afflicted by the likes of Henry Rollins should probably count himself a real lucky guy in this world.
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