Thursday, February 14, 2008

If What You Really Want Is To Hear A Black Flag Record...

I recently bought Black On Black: A Tribute To Black Flag from eMusic. Black On Black came out in 2006 and features a bunch of the current generation of hardcore punk and metalcore bands covering Black Flag songs.

1. Black Coffee, Zao
2. My War, Bleeding Through
3. Spray Paint The Walls, Remembering Never
4. Rise Above, Most Precious Blood
5. I've Heard It Before, Black Dahlia Murder
6. Loose Nut, Drowningman
7. Depression, Give Up The Ghost
8. Life Of Pain, Anodyne (There are many bands, songs and albums named "Anodyne." This link took some homework.)
9. Drinking And Driving, Burnt By The Sun
10. Jealous Again, Coalesce
11. Annihialate This Week, Converge
12. Damaged, The Dillinger Escape Plan
13. Nervous Breakdown, The Hope Conspiracy
14. Police Story/Wasted, Planes Mistaken For Stars
15. Six Pack, Playing Enemy

eMusic allows members to post comments and reviews. On Black On Black's download page a generational squabble was taking place when I went to get my copy. It seems that some Black Flag fans of my generation didn't think Converge and Most Precious Blood could give fitting tribute to Black Flag because they are too "produced" and commercially successful. Defending their generation's street cred, the metalcore fans, probably the age of my kids, wouldn't suffer a word against the younger bands.

This is funny to me for a whole bunch of reasons. First, engaging in an argument about anything this subjective is silly. I'm reminded of Woody Allen's parents fighting in Radio Days. "You think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?!" In my opinion Aerosmith suck for having recorded only one good song since they formed in 1970, but I'm not going to argue with anybody about it. It is entirely subjective. The argument would start out regressive and go down hill from there. Life is way too short for that.

Another thing that makes the conflict pointless is that both sides totally miss what tribute records and cover songs are about. They are neither about reproducing someone else's work nor proving the brilliance of the covering artist. It is about bringing something new to what came before.

So far as Black On Black goes, I say it we have a success by that standard. Specifically, Coalesce does something unexpected with Jealous Again, slowing it down and giving it a very different feel that totally works. Similarly, Playing Enemy takes the relatively tame Black Flag song, Six Pack, and brilliantly bookend it with long half-time intro and outros while giving the body of the song a blistering feel any hardcore band would be proud of.

That Black Dahlia Murder and Most Precious Blood don't shed any new light on Rise Above and I've Heard It Before (two of my favorite Black Flag songs) is disappointing but doesn't mean they shouldn't have done them. At least they are different from the originals. The most pointless covers are the ones that nearly duplicate the original.

This is by beef with Charlie Peacock's cover of Mrs. Robinson from the West Coast Diaries era. I know that technically the arrangement is different but listening casually it sounds exactly like Simon and Garfunkel to me. West Coast Diaries 1-3 are my favorite Charlie Peacock albums. The songs are great. The production stays out of the way of the music. They are just great. Why include a nice, but not brilliant, Simon and Garfunkel song without any real reinterpretation?

One of the old school punk fans complaining about Black On Black said the record was too produced. Apparently, this person likes their punk rock overtly DIY and garage-y and considers good, professional recordings to violate the spirit of Black Flag's music. That's fine. Black Flag left behind a raft of raw, under-produced recordings we can all go back to whenever we need a dose of that just-barely-out-of-the-basement goodness that got us all so wound up about LA punk in the first place. We already have these songs recorded that way. Why do it again?

Ah, but Dillinger Escape Plan attacking Damaged from a new angle, now that's interesting! That brings the past and the future together in a few minutes of noisy conflict in a way that really grabs my attention. And it is much more thought provoking than arguing about what a Black Flag tribute album should sound like.

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