If you are unfamiliar with the seminal album The Shape of Punk to Come by Refused then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Released in 1998, the album still sounds as fresh today as it did sixteen years ago. Breaking down the standard of what punk and hardcore had become then adding elements of jazz, post-rock, and several genres of electronic music, Refused had created something that could probably never be topped so they called it quits months after the album was released.
Today, you can still hear Refused’s influence. But instead of looking to the future, punk has mostly been stuck in the past. Cash-in reunions are the new normal. Re-recording old material isn’t unheard of. Lawsuits against former band members being filed regularly. Is this what the spirit of punk was all about? It all comes down to the music and that really is all that should matter. But sometimes it is hard to ignore like with the 2013 Black Flag debacle and, in the past few weeks, The Misfits.
The question now becomes, where do we we go from here? Back to basics. If you had told me ten years ago that in 2014 one of my favorite modern bands would feature the original singer of Black Flag, well I never would have believed you. What originally started as a Circle Jerks reunion album has transformed into the most consistent punk band of the last few years.
Picking up where 80’s hardcore ended, OFF! have released two full-length albums, four EP’s, and a 7” single for this past Record Store Day. Each one of their songs is short, fast, and loud just like they should be. New ground isn’t being broken here but they have also managed to not be stuck 30 years in the past even though they easily could. Their latest release, Wasted Years, takes everything that made the Circle Jerks great then pushes it to the limit. I always found the West Coast scene to have a good sense of humor as opposed to the East Coast which seemed to take itself too seriously. OFF! strike the perfect balance between both but that may just be as a result of having members that didn’t grow up in the same area. If you have not done so, take twenty minutes out of your day and listen to one of their albums.
On the flipside of all this comes one of the worst albums released in recent memory. Black Flag’s What The… I won’t even go into the to the whole FLAG/Black Flag lawsuit and opposing tours. I really could not believe how badly this album was being received until I actually gave it a listen. I happen to come across a copy for $5 and decided it couldn’t be all that bad, I was wrong. Everything you loved about the original albums is missing and has been replaced with a theremin. Ron Reyes, known for having a cup of coffee with the band after Keith Morris originally left to form Circle Jerks is back as the singer, but only briefly. He was fired onstage during a tour of Australia and will be replaced with former professional skateboarder Mike Vallely, so we have that to look forward to. When the public is skeptical of every future reunion this will be one of the albums that we look back on as the reason why. Hardcore has now reached the point where we have our very own Journey, and Black Flag is their name.
I won’t judge anyone that wants to go see them live, most of us were way too young to witness them the original years of the band. So if you want to go hear them play Nervous Breakdown or Rise Above, by all means go ahead. When they play these new songs, use the restroom or get yourself a beverage. Whatever you do, do not bother picking up this album at the merch booth. I hope to be proven wrong and the next album makes me forget all about this but I don’t realistically seeing that happen.
Next time: 1994 was one of the best years for music ever. As the 20th anniversary of Definitely Maybe approaches we will take a look back at the legacy of Oasis, Blur, and more from the Britpop explosion.