There is a surprising lack of hype surrounding Black Flag’s first studio album in 28 years, considering the band effectively established hardcore punk as a genre and became an icon for millions.
As with many reunions, this is not the same Black Flag that released classics such as “Damaged” or “My War.” Austinite Greg Ginn leads this reincarnation of the group with vocalist Ron Reyes, who briefly sang for the original band between Keith Morris’ and Henry Rollins’ tenures. Apart from Reyes, Ginn is the only original member of the band, and since he was the only constant member in the group’s constantly fluctuating lineups, his involvement solidifies this as a real Black Flag record.
Even with some authenticity in place, the album is a convoluted mess. Ginn may be the main architect behind the band’s seminal classics, but he is also one of the most hated men in punk rock, making headlines recently for suing the band FLAG, another Black Flag reunion act that is touring and headlined Fun Fun Fun Fest. Ginn’s reputation does him no favors, but all of that could have been redeemed if the first collection of original Black Flag material since 1985 was impressive. That is not even close to the case.
What The… prompts confusion as to why Ginn decided to resurrect the name of the legendary band to put out these songs. Black Flag’s anarchic anger sounded revolutionary back in the early ’80s, but hearing a group of men over 50 writing songs such as “Shut Up” and “This is Hell” is downright juvenile and uncomfortable. Black Flag was always experimenting with different genres, including metal, but some of the classic rock-inspired guitar solos on What The… fall completely flat. While the second half gets better, it is not enough to redeem what came before.
Former front man Rollins was an important part of what made Black Flag so forceful, and his absence is sorely felt on What The…. Reyes tries to be an explosive punk singer but simply cannot fill the shoes of Rollins, and was actually fired from the band a week before the album was released. Few of these songs sound like anything more than studio throwaways that would be B-sides for any other punk group. Reunion albums are almost never as good as the originals, but it is usually at least worth it to hear old favorites write new songs. Rarely do albums feel as unnecessary as What The… does.