Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review #110: Black Flag - Family Man (1984)


Year: 1984
Genre: Spoken Word, Punk Rock
Post-Punk, Jazz-Punk
Label: SST Records

33 Minutes (Medium-Length)
My Rating:

"Family Man" has always been sort of the odd-one-out in the whole Black Flag discography. It's no regular punk record, that's for sure. Family Man. One half spoken-word album, one half-instrumental album -- actually, not quite: there is one song with instruments and vocals on here, and it's called "Armageddon Man". Nine minutes long, too! Well, if you're looking for a "Damaged" or a "Jealous Again", you won't find none of that here... which would actually mean that you WOULD find that here, but the harsh truth is that you won't. This iz far-off, musically complex shit that your typical hardcore band wouldn't even know where to start playing. And that's okay. Black Flag were masters of their genre. The first half of the album is really more just a "Henry Rollins" record, as it's just him talking (except when you can hear some of the other band members laughing). Yeah, you'll hear a lot of his early spoken word pieces here. Some are rather disturbing, and others are slightly humorous. Maybe not for the easily offended... I can't imagine how many people I know would probably try to burn this album if they heard the title track. And hey, the title track is the first track. What an excellent place to start, right? Get out your wax, place it on the turntable, stick your needle in the right place, and get it spinnin'... OR just put your CD in the stereo... or just click on the fucking MP3 file... lame-ass. Ahem. On with Family Man.

1. Family Man
In the beginning, there was Henry, and there was Kira. And God saw that it was good. After eons passed, Henry speaketh: "Do you want the Family Man, or do you want the Swingin' Man? You choose"... to which Kira answereth: "family man". And like a tape recorded set off by a single click of the 'play' button, Henry goes off like a fuckin' gun. "Family Man"... even just two words in, you can feel the contempt and venom in the lexicon. "Taking no chances on the new day", "your sandcastle's all built, smiling through your guilt". Henry basically talks about how much he hates the 'family man'. The thing that people with no other idea of what to do become. The patron saint of mediocrity. "Taking no chances on the new day". This track is the ultimate weapon against middle American generic cookie-cut values. Tell 'em something that offends them. Speak irreverently about their loved ones, even if you don't mean it. It's the words that stab like a salt-covered sword. Your mediocres, wannabe alpha-males, society followers, sick perverts... they all come neatly wrapped in the Family Man. "Smiling through your guilt". This piece is your weapon. It will make your own friends uncomfortable. Try it. I dare ya.

2. Salt On a Slug
A slightly more low-quality track. This one's about Henry poured salt on a large slug. They say it's not a nice thing to do. Well, let's just say this slug was pretty much fucked. Then Henry imagines that he's a giant tongue that gets dipped in salt.

3. Hollywood Diary
A bizarre love story about a guy who loves a woman so much that he cuts off his own left arm (the good one), and sends it to her with a box of chocolates. The woman eats the chocolates and watches some television. The man shoots himself in the head, and then takes the pieces of his splattered cranium and puts them back in place, to start over "with a renewed vigor not seen by many".

4. Let Your Fingers Do the Walking
Sort of a stream-of-consciousness rant with a good sense of wit and intensity. It's the longest spoken word piece on here, being over three minutes long. "How much time do you have? Do you know? How much do you need to get the job done? You know exactly what I'm talking about, don't ya? Of course you do. That's exactly why you came here in the first place."

5. Shed Reading (Rattus Norvegicus)
Rattus Norvegicus: the Brown Rat. This one is spoken from the viewpoint of a rat. Henry's favorite animal. It really makes you feel a lot of sympathy for the furry hero. Rattus reminds us that "if you could see past the fur, I think you'd realize that I'm a lot like you". Rats actually do share much DNA in common with human beings. Perhaps we should be more considerate of the rights of rats. What the hell, now I sound like one of those PeTA people...

6. No Deposit, No Return
This one's pretty depressing. That's probably what it's about. The feeling of isolation and depression. Being alone. It's late at night. No deposit... no return...

7. Armageddon Man
The real stand-out track here. It's the only "song" here, in the sense that it contains both vocals and instruments. Even then, the vocals are spoken, not sung. Musically, this shit far weirder than "My War" could dream of being. By this point, the punks who thought they knew what Black Flag was all about were leaving in droves. It's like free jazz, or something. Just real fucked-up, y'know? I have no idea if he wrote the whole thing or if he just improvised it. "THESE PEOPLE ARE FOR REAL. THEY WATCH TELEVISION. THEY RUN IN CIRCLES. THEY BARK LIKE DOGS. THEY RIP AT MY HEELS. THEY WANT TO PUT A COLLAR AROUND MY NECK. THEY WANT ME TO BE LIKE THEM. WELL, I JUST WALK RIGHT PAST THEM, RIGHT OVER THEM, RIGHT ON TOP OF THEM. I JUST CRUSH THEIR FACE: BECAUSE THEY'RE NOTHIN'." This song is really long, it's nine minutes long. End of Side 1.

8. Long Lost Dog of It
Here begins the instrumental side. This tune has an eerie, ominous feel to it, as a dark bassline is played, along a plodding, thumping bass drum, with droning lead guitar. Slowly, the drum work gets slightly more aggressive. The song fades out after about two minutes.

9. I Won't Stick Any of You Unless I Can Stick All of You!
This song's faster and more urgent. At some points (the chorus), the music goes into little brief jabs of one-note music, until 'laxing back into something with more flow. Some parts are faster than others. In other parts of the 'chorus', the guitars all stay the same, but the drumming gets real wild. It plays on a repeated general "melody", but the trick is that in each section, there's always something different going on with at least one of the tracks of audio.

10. Account For What?
So all this time, Henry just gets to sit back and do nothing while the rest of the band slaves away at these musical monsters. All he had to do for this album was just say stuff. Hah hah hah... This one's okay. Not a huge fan of the bassline, but it's still a decent track. The bass sort of drives the rest. Meanwhile, the guitar (and at some times the drumming) is all over the place!

11. The Pups Are Doggin' It
This song begins by simply fading in. It's pretty speedy. That doesn't stop it from being Black Flag-tastic, though. The lead guitar is real cool. At one point, the tempo slows down or something like that. After the band finally gives up their game, it all dissolves into a clattering mess of noise that, well, fades out.

That's "Family Man". Definitely one of the strangest and most challenging works of Black Flag. And yes, the date written on the cover of the album is when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Apparently Family Man saw it necessary to assassinate himself. Because the government told him to. Because aliens n' reptilians and Osama bin Laden and stuff. Blah blah blah. Hey, here's a joke: what does a PUPPY do? It DOGS things. Because puppies like dogging stuff. Like, they DOG things. And when they become DOGS, then they just PUPPY things. It all makes perfect sense. Mathematics. Science. Sexual Education. School. Agh. Yes, this iz a good thing butt it iz probably not fer everyjaun. I'm hungry. Thanks for reading my review. Enjoy these videos I have posted below for you. Goodbye, now!

Top 3 Favorites:
1. Family Man
2. The Pups Are Doggin' It
3. Let Your Fingers Do the Walkin'


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