BLACK FLAG: WHAT THE... (2013)
1) My Heart's Pumping; 2) Down In The Dirt; 3) Blood And Ashes; 4) Now Is The Time; 5) Wallow In Despair; 6) Slow Your Ass Down; 7) It's So Absurd; 8) Shut Up; 9) This Is Hell; 10) Go Away; 11) The Bitter End; 12) The Chase; 13) I'm Sick; 14) It's Not My Time To Go-Go; 15) Lies; 16) Get Out Of My Way; 17) Outside; 18) No Teeth; 19) To Hell And Back; 20) Give Me All Your Dough; 21) You Gotta Be Joking; 22) Off My Shoulders.
Good title. Anyone up for a new «Black Flag» album, the band's first in 17 years, with Ron Reyes, a.k.a. «Chavo Pederast», returning to work with Greg Ginn? And no Rollins, no Kira, no Bill Stevenson, in short, nobody of particular interest, in addition? And with an album cover that could only be interpreted as a kiddie parody on the classic Raymond Pettibon artwork of old? They say that Ron Reyes designed the cover himself — wouldn't surprise me in the least. The guy's painting talents are a fairly good match for his singing ones.
I have no idea why, after all those years of experimentation, Ginn decided to return to the stultifyingly rigid approach of the «classic hardcore punk» formula. Twenty-two «songs» over forty-two minutes, mostly played at fast tempos and each one written according to the same recipé: multi-tracked guitar riff, funky bassline, and a guy howling out anti-social proclamations as if he were suffering from an acute stomachache that just won't go away. If this is an attempt to go back to the ascetic values of Damaged, it's a total stylistic and substantial failure, but I don't really think this is what it is. More likely, it is an attempt to get back to the roots of the roots — for once, Ginn has decided that he has had enough with experimentation and that, perhaps, at this particular point of time the most experimental thing to do would be to produce a deliberately non-experimental record.
Which would all be fine and dandy, if not for two things. First, these riffs are bad. I'd honestly rather have two or three good riffs, spread over long numbers, than twenty-two riffs that are impossible to distinguish from each other — in the end, what with the short running lengths and all, it all falls together in one thick riff soup. Worse, for some reason, Ginn settles on a different, previously unfavored, guitar sound for him: double-tracked in stereo and run through some sort of wah-wah pedal that creates a constant «bubbling / perking» effect, obscuring the melody; such things might be okay for a brief climactic solo, but when they are at the very base of the sound and never leave that base, you soon begin wondering what the hell is going on.
Second, I can fully understand Ron Reyes' artistic decision to bawl over each single recording like your friendly beer-chuggin' neighbor with a thick skull and poor social skills — for all I know, that description might apply to «Chavo» in real life — but the truth of the matter is that, merely two or three songs into this nightmare of an album, the combination of Ron's «vomit into the microphone» and Greg's «use the guitar as a baseball bat» approaches starts giving me such a terrible headache that sitting through this muck even once becomes a heroic feat, and every attempt at a second or third listen only makes it worse. If the powers-that-be still accept immoral suggestions, I would certainly advise them to add the album to the National Registry of «Potential Guantanamo Torture Devices for Future Use».
In fact, were this an instrumental record, we'd all feel better — you could treat it as some sort of Metal Machine Music, an arrogant move to remind us that «hardcore» is really all about being unbearable, and that the aural suffering that you experience should work as shock therapy. But with the vocals in tow, «unbearable» becomes «unbearably dumb», and that is a different beast. Hearing Ron Reyes holler "shut up! shut up! just shut the fuck up!" or "get out of my way!" or any other single imperative chorus with the intonations of an unrefined street gangster is stupidity's death blow to any possible signs of intelligence. The fact that Ginn employs the theremin on some of the tracks is completely irrelevant in the light of this circumstance; no ʽGood Vibrationsʼ or ʽWhole Lotta Loveʼ can come out of this mess.
The only «good news» is that Reyes only lasted a short time in this version of the band, being quickly ousted by Mike Vallely — but, frankly speaking, everybody is responsible for the failure, and Ginn, as the leader, should take most of the blame. A tremendous disappointment, especially for those fans who actually did wait for a new Black Flag album all these years, and let us not kid ourselves by offering the usual justificatory excuses ("they had to move on", "they dislike being pigeonholed", "this is the way the band sounds in the 21st century, deal with it", etc.): this album is just downright stupid, and I am sure that even Greg Ginn's greatest fans understand it in their hearts. One of the most assured thumbs down I've ever given out.
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