Infamous Albums: Black Flag’s What The…

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After the success of the article on  Black Sabbath’s Born Again, we decided to immediately work on the next installment of Infamous Albums. For this second episode we will be looking at Black Flag’s 2013 album What The…

The brain child of guitarist, Greg Ginn and most known for former vocalist Henry Rollins, Black Flag along with D.R.I, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and many other helped formed the U.S hardcore punk sound. Starting with their second album My War, the band would become more experimental, something that followed the band on every release until their 1986 break up.

Post break up, the members would remain in the music business with Rollins forming Rollin’s Band and Ginn continued in his other projects most notably The Descendants. In 2003 the band played three reunion shows in their home state of California. These shows would include My War being played in its entirety with skateboarder Mike Valley doing guest vocals.  In 2010, to celebrate the 50th birthday of then ex-vocalist, Ron Reyes, Greg Ginn along with Reyes himself, played a set of three Black Flag songs in addition, to a regular set from The Ron Reyes Band. On December 8th, 2011 ex-members, Keith Morris,Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, and Descendants guitarist Stephen Egerton played the entire Nervous Breakdown EP. This was a surprise appearance during a Vandals/Descendants show. This line up would continue to tour and be known as Flag.  In 2013, Ron Reyes, and Greg Ginn announced wanting to bring Black Flag back. They were joined by newcomers Gregory Moore on drums and Dave Klein on bass. This caused two versions of the same band to exist, neither which featured Henry Rollins. In 2013, Black Flag released their first album since 1985 titled What The… . Neither fans nor critics were impressed as they saw it as nothing but a cash grab. This is the first full length to not feature Henry Rollins and the first release since their second ep, Jealous Again to feature Ron Reyes.

First off the production on this album is really poor. Sure lo-fi production is one of the charms of Black Flag and punk in general, but here it doesn’t work. The rhythm section is impossible to hear and the mixing is extremely sloppy. Ron Reyes’s vocals on here just sound horrible. While he sounded just fine on Jealous Again, here he just sounds like a washed up version of Mark Arm from Mudhoney.  The lyrics are corny especially coming from a band that’s known for thought provoking lyrics. The album art looks very lazy and more fitting for a 90’s Nicktoon. The guitar work is the closest thing to a redeeming quality. The record has many cool leads and Ginn’s trademark shrieking solos are still there, however the riffs on this album are very generic and get boring fast. The drumming is also very generic. These problems are present on every track, making it a chore to get through in one sitting.

The first half of this album tries to be the in your face, aggressive, punk band we all know and love. Sadly Reyes’s bored sounding vocals combined with the lazy riffs fail to create any sort of energy and a Black Flag album without energy is a big fail. The second half of the album is where we start getting more varied. This is very similar to how My War transitioned from fast, experimental hardcore on side A, to a slow and heavy doom metal inspired style on side B. While that album was great and it’s experimentation inspired many others, What The…, found a way to make even it’s experimental side sound stale. The slow and mid tempo parts  sound very mediocre and chances are the listener is already starting to zone out at this part. The album also doesn’t blur together very well at all. If you were to have this on in the background and not pay attention to the lyrics, you would have no idea which track you are on. This record is so poorly structured that you could cut and paste random sections from random tracks and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. This is a huge step down for Black Flag as their later albums, such as Family Man, were full of variety and risk taking.

In conclusion, What The… , is a sloppy, rushed, mess of an album. Not a single track is worth listening to, as they all sound lazy and are near impossible to tell apart. The mixing and songwriting are bottom of the barrel, which is sad since everyone (when you can actually hear them)  in this band is talented. This is nothing more then an effortless cash grab that puts a stain on the band’s amazing past legacy.

Rating: Why the… did I listen to this.