Black Flag finds they can't rely on their legacy much longer
This seems to have been the year of the comeback artist. Justin Timberlake dabbled in musical ophthalmology with his two-part “20/20 Experience,” Robin Thicke resurrected himself as a misogynistic surveyor of “Blurred Lines” and Fall Out Boy failed to “Save Rock and Roll,” but delivered one of the more impressive dance-pop records in the past 12 months.
A less successful permutation of the trend has crept into the punk rock scene as well, as legends don’t want their status as respected veterans to become a slow fade into the background. Bad Religion dropped the lukewarm “True North” last year and assembled a package of half-digested Christmas songs this holiday season. The Misfits and Descendents have reformed with hodgepodge versions of their original lineups to head modest touring circuits.
The latest offender is the highly-regarded Black Flag, who is back with their first studio album since “In My Head” from 1985.
The record titled “What The…” adequately describes its contents. Its whopping 22 tracks are textbook Black Flag, but it’s wrinkly around the edges for the entirety of its 45-minute running time.
Whether a reference to vocalist Ron Reyes’ old age or not, opener “My Heart’s Pumping” reprises the snarl he sported on his last outing with the group, 1980s misfiring “Jealous Again.” Tracks like “Down in the Dirt” and “Go Away” seem to answer this angst-riddled attack with jolts of energy so similar, however, that the original song loses its driving force. Sure, it’s punk music and derivative output is easy to find, but when the album has offerings like “This Is Hell,” which flirts with Jane’s Addiction’s best jungle drums and schizophrenic guitars, there’s plenty left to be desired.
“What The…” isn’t without its high water marks though. The rollicking “It’s Not My Time to Go-Go” is 90 seconds of bass-heavy fun, and lead single “The Chase,” with guitar lines revamped from earlier glories and crisp drums, makes up for more heinous cuts.
Recall everyone in this band is older than 50, so lyrical themes that shove a middle finger toward The Establishment seem tired and inconsistent. “Lies,” with its embarrassingly nu metal drudge, promises Reyes “lives with [his] anxiety and [his] angst” against unjust power. Fair enough. When he uses this anger on the “Outside” to slop down a bastardization of the couch potato in Green Day’s “Longview,” you can’t help but stifle a laugh. To quote one of “What The…” many straightforward track monikers, “You Gotta Be Joking,” Black Flag 2K13.
All the elements are present for a solid Black Flag record: it’s stacked with frenetic instrumentals, vocals that barrel through speakers with full force and an agenda that hasn’t aged a day. But though Black Flag still has all the right ingredients to dish out something memorable, the harsh truth is they don’t serve the masterpiece I hoped for. Sure, punk might not be dead, but it would’ve been better if these punks stayed buried behind their former selves.