Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Black Flag

  • Jealous Again [SST EP, 1980] B
  • Damaged [SST, 1981] A-
  • Everything Went Black [SST, 1982] B
  • My War [SST, 1984] B-
  • Slip It In [SST, 1984] C+
  • Who's Got the 10-1/2? [SST, 1986] A-
  • Wasted Again [SST, 1987] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jealous Again [SST EP, 1980]
Black Flag are committed to rage, not in itself--I don't believe their "I've got something personal against you" even though I know it's true--but as a musical principle. Five songs, seven minutes, as arty as no wave, with a comparable relationship to punk precedents, which for L.A. are basic Brit. The sound is extreme and unique, all forced rhythm and guitar blur with no ingratiating distractions--no humor, irony, hooks, or (God knows) melody. Well, maybe irony. B

Damaged [SST, 1981]
Although the B side drags more painfully than I bet was intended, this is powerful stuff. Greg Ginn is the greatest noise guitarist since Johnny Thunders, new vocalist Henry Rollins can snarl along any tortured contour they serve up, and "Rise Above," "Six Pack," and the uproarious "TV Party" prove they can write songs as well as gnash fragments. Inspirational Verse: "I wanna live/I wish I was dead." A-

Everything Went Black [SST, 1982]
Stuck in legal limbo, they resort to historic alternate-take arcana featuring the three screamers who passed through the band before Henry Rollins took possession--except for side four, which is filled with radio ads for Flag gigs. These are still collector-only, I suppose. But as punk-era Firesign Theatre, worth going out and flattering a geek with a skateboard to hear. B

My War [SST, 1984]
Depleted by the kind of corporate strife I thought these guys were too cynical to fall for (which may be why they did), Henry Rollins's adrenalin gives out. The consequent depression is so monumental that even Greg Ginn succumbs, adding only one classic to his catalogue of noise solos ("The Swinging Man") and grinding out brain-damaged cousins of luded power chords behind the three dirges that waste side two. But things do start off manically enough, with the title tune (refrain: "You're one of them") and five minutes of Henry explaining why he smiles so much (which I never noticed). B-

Slip It In [SST, 1984]
"Slip It In" is by somebody who learned about sex from movies. "Black Coffee" carries this antidrug thing too far. "Wound Up" could be tighter. "Rat's Eyes" cries out in agony for Sabbath's chops. "Obliteration" is an ace accompanist's solo turn. "The Bars" isn't about prison--or saloons. "My Ghetto" is an outtake from the rant side of Damaged. "You're Not Evil" is right on. C+

Who's Got the 10-1/2? [SST, 1986]
My War, Slip It In, the Live '84 tape, the instrumental sides, Henry's poetry readings--it was all too much, the excess production of bohemian businessmen ready to shove any old shit up the wazoos of their presold believers. So I hardly heard the 1985 studio LPs Loose Nut and In My Head, which prove their sharpest since Damaged, with Loose Nut especially showing off Greg Ginn's fangs as lyricist and riffmaster. The demented acceleration and guitar squiggles of this live date improve most of the hottest songs from the '85 albums. And while introducing the band members by cock size may protest their belated obsession with sex too much, I can't complain when the answer to the title question is Kira, who plays bass so stalwartly she deserves all the credit she can get. A-

Wasted Again [SST, 1987]
As even they may realize eventually, they never were much of an art band--just such a good rock and roll band you'd sit still for their bullshit. Despite the uneven pre-Damaged tracks, this beer-party compilation sums up their contribution to Western civilization quite neatly. In retrospect, their rampaging anomie seems pitilessly self-critical. They always knew their fun was fucked; they even knew it wasn't all that much fun. But that didn't fool them into concluding it was no fun at all, much less bad or something. A