December 25, 2018

Black Flag - What The... (2013)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hardcore Punk
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© 2013 SST Records
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
Greg Ginn was the founder and lead guitarist of Black Flag, and the sole constant member during the band's tumultuous 1977-1986 history. Ginn started Black Flag, he ended it, and ultimately he can do as he pleases with the band's legacy, which is troubling because Ginn doesn't seem to understand what made his band memorable in the first place. At least that's how it feels after listening to What The..., the first album of new Black Flag material since In My Head in 1985. Ginn was seemingly prompted into action by the arrival of FLAG, a band of Black Flag alumni led by Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski that hit the road playing songs from the group's back catalog, and What The... finds Ginn reuniting with Ron Reyes (aka Chavo Pederast), who sang with Black Flag on the 1980 Jealous Again EP and appeared in the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization during his brief tenure with the band. Reyes was never one of Black Flag's better vocalists, and he hasn't improved much after more than 30 years; his lumpen bray does little to enliven these songs, and his lyrics are mediocre, curious rants that don't add up to much and bear titles that sound like parodies of punk rock ("Shut Up," "Slow Your Ass Down," "You Gotta Be Joking," "It's So Absurd"). But it's Ginn who gives this project the stamp of authority, and he's the real problem with What The.... Ginn wrote the music and plays guitar, organ, Theremin, and bass here (the latter under the alias Dale Nixon), and he seems to be aiming for the brittle, urgent sound of the band's earliest recordings. But where Black Flag's first sides sounded feral in their intensity and precise in their attack, this music seems clumsy and half-hearted, and Ginn's interplay with new drummer Gregory Amoore feels sluggish and leaden at every turn. What The... isn't a blast of teenage rage like the "Nervous Breakdown" single, a furious call to arms like Damaged, or an exploration of the boundaries of heaviness like My War or Slip It In. Instead, What The... is a set of short, perfunctory punk rock tunes from a man whose interest in the form seems half-hearted at best. (In the spring of 2012, when booked to play Coachella, Ginn told a reporter his interests were "more oriented toward electronic things, I'm not excited about reunion stuff or alternative rock.") What The... runs in circles, briskly but without going anywhere, and it's only on the final tune, a purposefully sloppy bit of bluesy rock called "Off My Shoulders" that Ginn sounds like he's engaged or having fun. The existence of What The... shows that Greg Ginn can still do Black Flag if he pleases, but listening to it shows why he shouldn't.

tags: black flag, what the, 2013, flac,