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Customer Review

on 26 February 2010
One of the previous reviewers suggested that if you like Black Flag then you must be in some way unable to appreciate music.

Let me see, what was the last music I paid for? Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martins in the Fields doing Bach's 'Art of Fugue' and 'Musical Offering'. The original 1943 recording of Benjamin Britten's 'Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings'. Mendlessohn's Hebrides Overture. The waltz from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, because my two-year-old girl likes it. Strauss's Blue Danube, because it's such a great old chestnut. Kim Kashkashian playing Hindemith's viola sonatas. Some Israeli surf-punk from Boom Pam and vintage Greek surf guitar from Aris San. Kenny Rogers singing 'Just Dropped In'. Oh yeah, and also Mike Watt's 'Ball-Hog or Tugboat', some free improv guitar by Davey Williams and Maurizio Pollini playing the Diabelli Variations. I think it's fair to say that I have no problem liking various kinds of music. I also like Black Flag. A lot. I like them so much that my only tattoo is of their logo.

I first listened to the Flag in the mid-80s when I was a fairly dumb teenager. In those days I was listening to SST bands, Cream, Hendrix and bebop. Oddly enough, Cream, Hendrix and jazz are all part of the mix when it comes to later Flag (it's well-documented how Greg Ginn - or was it Chuck Dukowski? - turned Henry Rollins onto Charles Mingus while on tour). But this, the first proper Black Flag album, is not only one of the best Black Flag albums, it's also one of the best punk albums ever, and arguably transcends punk by virtue of being relatively complex musically: for every hilarious clapalong rant like 'TV Party' there's something as rhythmically sophisticated as 'What I See' or 'Damaged II'. Black Flag were always a band capable of great musical eloquence, and if they mostly wanted to express anger, alienation, paranoia and contempt, so what? Those are perfectly legitimate emotions to want to get across musically, and these lads really got them across. It's not hard to see why they were so unpopular on their first visit to the UK. British punk bands were always more about fashion and posturing than about playing convincing music, but Black Flag were always single-mindedly about playing whatever they wanted. Maybe that's why they appeal to the muso in me. I can't listen to the Sex Pistols anymore because their stuff doesn't stand up to repeated plays in the way that the Flag's recordings do (and so does the music of their peers - bands like the Minutemen and Husker Du, to name just two).

Black Flag morphed into various different shapes over the years and were frequently stymied and ultimately strangled by Greg Ginn's personality problems, but at his peak he was a fiendishly expressive guitarist. Their records usually sound pretty bad, because nobody in SST really knew how to produce a record so that the band sounded like a band, but the genius still shines through. This is probably the best album, although there are pockets of sheer brilliance scattered over the rest of their output - Loose Nut is perhaps the most metallic, In My Head the weirdest, and The First Four Years is a vital document of the early Flag when they were more of a regular (if very good) hardcore punk band.

Listen to Damaged. It has, as we say in academia, considerable extra-musical interest, being a crucial document of the LA punk subculture. But it's also a great rock album, one of the best ever.
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