October 3, 2002

Test Spin: Various Artists

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A tribute album is like karaoke without the drunken revelry. Henry Rollins one-ups this bizarreness by paying tribute to himself. Of course, Rollins has always been too egomaniacal to let his egomania go unchecked and, quite respectably and sincerely, he has pledged all of the album’s proceeds to the legal defense of the West Memphis Three, a group of teenagers convicted of brutal Satanic murders based on remarkably imaginary evidence. Rollins’ Black Flag, the ’80s punk band, is easily the most entertaining thing to come out of LA since cocaine and grime. With jazz-thrash riffs and Rollins’ MC5-itized polemic, this is the sound of your brain on vaguely political vitriol. These songs don’t need covers.

Still, as much as I wanted to categorically detest the covers on this album, the songs are simply too ecstatically angry. With Rollins’ current band backing everyone from Ice-T to Lemmy, the instrumental vibe is fairly accurately replicated, even if it doesn’t particularly add too much to the original recordings. Sadly, however, the best vocalist is Henry Rollins himself, sounding, well, like Black Flag. A few screamers (Iggy Pop, Cedric Bixler) do revitalize some of the band’s oeuvre. Chuck D says four lines on “Rise Above” and then apparently left the studio.

Black Flag made some great punk and this album never reduces its value (although the tedious dirge of Jeff Moreira comes horrifyingly close). But, this music sounds best when performed by a young Black Flag that are ramming their heads against any available blunt objects while criticizing police states.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt