Friday, January 25, 2008
No. 340: Damaged
Band: Black Flag
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The first full length album from the seminal LA hardcore band was Henry Rollins, "Damaged" is a testament to teenage frustration. Youth and power go hand in hand on "Damaged," even though the album is decidedly anti-authority. In true punk fashion, the band had problems with the label and distributor.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'd probably put this one higher.
Best song: "Six Pack," "TV Party," "Rise Above," etc. Whatever, they're all great.
Worst song: "Damaged I" goes on too long.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.
Before he was a TV host, spoken word recording artist, author, actor or philosopher king, Henry Rollins was the singer of Black Flag. When Dez Cadena moved over to guitar, Hank took over as the band's vocalist.
The continuing theme within "Damaged" is, like most hardcore, aggression and frustration. Despite AllMusic saying that most of Black Flag's music "just sounded petulant and bored," "Damaged" starts with one of the band's anthems, "Rise Above." The song's lyrics reflect the overall hatred of authority ("We are tired of your abuse/Try to stop us its no use"), evidenced in the band's constant conflicts with the police, their record distributor, club owners, etc. The binary refrain in "What I See" ("I want to live. I wish I was dead.") reflects the melodrama evident in the youthful existence that the band parroted often.
Alcoholism isn't funny, but it's powerful in one of the album's highlights, "Six Pack." The idea of "I was born with a bottle in my mind, now I've got a sixer I'll enver run out" is classicly clever and angry, the band's signature. Rollins' Waits-esque growl is perfect for the song, though he was likely not drinking, but destroyed on acid while recording it.
"TV Party" is probably the silliest Black Flag song and the band's least aggressive. Relying on goofy full-band backing shouting ("all right!" and the shouting of various popular early '80s -- "That's Incredible," "Fridays," etc. -- TV shows) and a raucous bassline, the song is the simple description of a TV party and the sadness that occurs when the band's TV stops working. Again, it's silly, but tons of fun and the band's least punk song, despite it backing up the punk rock slacker image.
Black Flag's loose musicianship is one of the hallmarks of the band. Greg Ginn's solos, while skilled, don't have the crispness of the metal by which he was influenced. The riffing and transitions sound, at times, sloppy and hurried, though entirely by design. The swing beat bass lines are put together well, but Ginn and Rollins are the stars of this particular show.
Black Flag was one of the bands that introduced me to punk rock. As a freshman in high school, I befriended some kids in a band (I cannot remember, for the life of me, what the name of the band was) who played Meat Puppets and Black Flag covers. I was sort of familiar with Rollins, as Rollins Band has a minor hit when I was in junior high. I got a tape from my cousin of the band's greatest hits collection ("Wasted...Again") and fell in love.
"Damaged" is the culmination of West Coast hardcore. Like Minor Threat, the band almost personifies hardcore punk rock. This album is angst before it became "alternative" or one of the calling cards of Sub Pop records in the early 1990s.
Also, it was released the year I was born. Strange.