I’m a huge punk rock fan. I’m a pretty big Henry Rollins fan. So I should love Black Flag. But there’s something about the hard core approach to punk that’s never grabbed me. Maybe I’m too milquetoast and suburban in my musical tastes, but I as much as I appreciate aggression in music, I don’t want it at the expense of melody. Which is why I’ve always preferred my Henry Rollins music in the form of Rollins Band. Rollins Band was loud and angry, but went beyond the ironically strict rules of punk rock, delving into hints of metal, funk, blues and straight up rock and roll. While Rollins Band kicked off pretty much immediately after Black Flag disbanded in 1986., the real breakthrough for Henry’s titular band was 1994’s Weight.
Restrained by Henry standards, Disconnected gets things started with a held back tempo and deliberate brooding. But the rock is there straight after on Fool. Rollins vocals are often half spoken, half sung, but he gets so in the pocket of the groove of Fool, that while it might not vary much in pitch, there’s still a real melody to it. And the shredding guitar solo from Chris Haskett doesn’t hurt either.
Civilized and Divine make a great pare. There’s barely a break between the two songs with Rollin’s vocal kicking in from note one on the latter. They’re different songs while sharing a similar vibe of frustration. Less like two songs back to back on an album, and more like one chapter following another in a book.
Then it’s time for Liar. The song that propelled Rollins Band and Weight into the mainstream. To hear Henry Rollins tell it, the song was a tossed off novelty and in joke with the band. And I can kind of hear that in the song, but I can also hear why it was the band’s breakthrough. The spoken word verses are intriguing to say the least, and the chorus is a great entre to the Rollins Band sound for the uninitiated.
As the second half of Weight rolls out, it’s a trip through the punk metal, funk, blues and straight up rock and roll mentioned earlier. Wrong Man has a great metal/funk feel while Volume 4 is simply a manifesto delivery device. And it’s awesome. But they can’t all be winners, and the combination of spoken word and musical wank that is Tired is so unnecessary, I feel like I’ve given it too much attention by even mentioning it in a negative way.
Rollins Band and Weight really is the perfect encapsulation of why I’ve never been able to get totally on board with Black Flag. Weight is angry, it’s loud, it’s aggressive and in your face. But there’s still plenty of room for melody, nuance and even a little experimentation. Plus, it’s Henry Rollins yelling his ass off for just shy of an hour. Basically, Weight is the best bit of Black Flag, put more front and centre, and backed up in a much more interesting way.