Words About Music
Black Flag “What The…”
“What the…?” indeed.
Among the many reunions to take place over the past few years, the one that has drawn the most criticism, controversy, and produced the most underwhelming result is the reunion of critically acclaimed hardcore punk band Black Flag. Black Flag were formed in 1976 by guitarist/brainchild Greg Ginn, and they recorded numerous EPs with a bunch of different singers (most notably Keith Morris who would later form Circle Jerks and OFF!) before settling on a young attractive upstart named Henry Rollins in 1981. Rollins fronted the group all the way to their demise in 1986 before achieving quite a bit of fame in the world of spoken word, television, comedy, and experimental music. In 2003, the band reunited for three benefit gigs with their lineup being former vocalist/rhythm guitarist Dez Cadena, Greg Ginn, former drummer Robo, and one-time bassist C’el Revuelta. Ginn and former vocalist Ron Reyes did a set of 3 Black Flag songs together in celebration of Reyes’ 50th birthday in 2010. In 2011, former singer Keith Morris along with former members Bill Stevenson and Chuck Dukowski with the addition of The Descendents’ Stephen Egerton, played a surprise gig of Black Flag songs. With all the people who can say they were in Black Flag, it was only a matter of time before the proverbial fecal matter hit the ceiling fan.
Earlier this year, the two incarnations of Black Flag (Greg Ginn/Ron Reyes and Keith Morris/Dez Cadena) clashed, with Ginn’s group performing under the original Black Flag moniker and Morris’ group performing under the name FLAG. After a bit of legal trouble was settled in which basically nothing was settled, Black Flag announced a new album, aptly titled “What The…” and with a cover that has been described as “cringeworthy.” Greg Ginn may continue to lose fans/friends and Black Flag may continue to lose credibility with each passing day, but let’s not focus on the backstory here. We have a new Black Flag album! Punk fans rejoice! It finally happened! Now let’s take a listen.
Towards the end of Black Flag’s career they were beginning to experiment more with heavy metal and jazz, and let’s just say that all that experimentation and growth was pretty much undone in one fell swoop. “What The…” is 22 songs of straightforward punk that more closely mirrors Ron Reyes’ very short career with the band, who he only ever recorded one EP with. Lyrically, it’s nothing very special. It feels like Greg Ginn just remixed unheard-of Ramones recordings by adding his own signature guitar parts over it. It’s almost pop punk.
“What The…” isn’t a complete failure. Artwork, lyrics, and controversy aside, it does have that old school early-80s hardcore feel when it comes to the production, which I assume can also be attributed to Greg Ginn. And Ron Reyes does deliver some decent vocals for a 50+ year old that hasn’t exactly been in very high demand since leaving Black Flag in 1980. Also, Ginn’s guitar-playing hasn’t aged a bit. He’s always been one of my favorite punk guitar players; I really do think he brought an excellent complexity to punk that wasn’t always there. Him and Dr. Know of Bad Brains really helped incorporate skill into hardcore punk that bands like The Ramones and Sex Pistols neglected to worry about.
When it comes down to it, “What The…” just does not feel like a Black Flag album. OFF! feels more like a true-to-form Black Flag incarnation than this new Black Flag does. What can I say? Keith Morris is just a much better frontman than Ron Reyes is. Could Henry Rollins have saved this album? I’m not sure. He probably doesn’t really care. At the end of the day, “What The…” comes off like an unnecessary cash grab with unmemorable songs. That doesn’t change the fact that at one point Black Flag were the kings and “Damaged” is still a classic, but I can see myself trying to forget about this album’s existence in the future.
SCORE – 4.2
FAVORITE TRACKS – Blood and Ashes, Wallow in Despair, Go Away, Outside, No Teeth