March 1, 2001

Wry Rollins

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Henry Rollins comfortably combines satire and insightful commentary in his latest spoken word album, A Rollins in the Wry. The pieces range in topic from political and social observations to aspects of his own life, and all of them have at least some entertaining moments.

Rollins has a seemingly innate ability of finding benign humor within controversy. In “Clintonese,” Rollins makes the wonderful gesture of redeeming our ex-President by proudly pointing out how Clinton always managed to survive personal attacks. Furthermore, he is able to take on topics such as gay men and Jesus, particularly in “The United Colors of West L.A.” and “Israel,” and address them in a relatively non-offensive fashion that can appeal to most audiences (the Christian Coalition exempted, of course).

He is also able to unashamedly make light of his own dating and sexual experiences and problems — particularly in “Rite-Aid” and “Maturity” — which results in hilarity. This provides a positive glimpse into his character and makes Rollins, a tall, muscular man with numerous scars and tattoos, less intimidating and significantly more compelling because of his self-awareness.

The album is a compilation of live performances from the Park Luna club in Los Angeles. Some of the humor seems at points to be directed specifically at that audience (since I’m a L.A. native and infatuated with the city’s more trivial aspects, gives me a positive bias towards the album). This is evidenced in his anecdotes about Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards, which require an active knowledge of the city’s character.

The problem of situational humor also occurs in “Israel,” where he discusses how sexy the women with guns and uniforms in the Israeli army are. This is a significant problem, as only a limited audience are likely to appreciate such skits.

However, this album further illustrates Rollins’ breadth of talent, as he has previously had numerous musical releases (both with Black Flag and later with the Rollins Band), a few small acting roles, and other spoken word albums. This album is much calmer than some of his earlier music, and shows Rollins’ intelligence as a writer. This is achieved through his voice inflection and the way he delivers his lines, which is simply brilliant, and helps make the album more enjoyable.

A Rollins in the Wry is not the type of album that one can listen to repeatedly, in that the material is mostly entertaining on a somewhat superficial level in small doses. However, it is still good to have around as an alternative to television and music. I would recommend this release to Henry Rollins fans as well as to anyone who enjoys irreverent comedy stylings.

Archived article by Louis Benowitz