…but not broken

Damaged | Black Flag | 1981 | Spot | #363

I’ve made a point with every album so far to download the lyrics and do a bit of background research on the artists. This is surely something I won’t be able to keep up every day – not if I want to get any actual work done – but I’ve enjoyed the insight it has given me so far and I’m glad I kept it up on this occasion. On first listen this album is just obnoxious, rebellious teenage-angst, but after reading through the lyrics and giving it a few more plays I realised that it touches on deeper issues and even recognised in places the same attitudes and frustrations of today’s disenfranchised youth.

Damaged is utterly chaotic, hardcore punk. I found that it makes you stop what you’re doing and forces you to either actively participate as a listener or switch it off, I couldn’t find any middle ground. Henry Rollins coarsely howls the lyrics which are a combination of verbosely describing his various states of depression, how pissed-off he is with society, and satirically mocking certain aspects of American culture.

I used to hold the opinion that decent musicianship was seldom heard in hardcore punk bands (owing to too much prog-rock while my musical tastes were being formed) and although this album did feel a bit one-dimensional throughout, there were moments that forced me to not be a snob and to appreciate what was being played – such as the odd decent guitar solo from Greg Ginn. But picking apart the album for how it showcases technical skill is irrelevant and misses the point entirely, this is an album that simply wants to get across the feelings and moods of its creators and they don’t care if you don’t enjoy it; “It feels good To say what I want It feels good To knock things down It feels good To see the disgust in their eyes It feels good And I’m gonna go wild”.

Between this and Saturday’s Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables I feel like I’ve gained a new insight and rediscovered the meaning of punk (at least the early-80s American version anyway). The artists deliberately create an atmosphere and a presence that makes them seem hard and unapproachable, but at the same time they’re writing candidly about their fragile mental health and the injustices in society – which ends up being an effective method of rallying support, often among the liberal-minded politically-active youth. From the perspective of listening to their material in 2016, more than 30 years after it was written, I can read about how many of the artists from the time have gone on to dedicate at least part of their lives to liberal issues such as anti-war movements and LGBT rights (as is in the case of Rollins). Which for me adds to the charm of the genre.

3 thoughts on “…but not broken

  1. Ryan you are stiring up old feelings of rebellion/oblivion for the old punk songs we loved so much. Just ordered Ramones ‘Animal boy’ just to play ‘Bonzo goes to Bitburg’ very loud in my van! reading up on the whole Bitburg controversy throws new light onto this song.

  2. I saw Black Flag in London in 1981 and they were something else. The UK punk scene was into its second wave but I was more interested in what was happening across the atlantic. DOA, Social Distortion, Channel 3, Dead Kennedys, Flipper, Subhumans, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, Agent Orange, Husker Du and best of all Black Flag were spearheading a new kind of punk, hardcore! No fashion, just ripped down to basics, chaotic rebellion, with great lyrics and music. Interestingly the Americans didn’t catch on until 15 years later when Green Day, Offspring, Rancid and Blink 182 brought punk to the masses. There would be no Black Flag without the Ramones but also there would be no stadium punk shows stateside without Black Flag. Another great review Ryan, you have been educating yourself all week though I fear a lot of drivel is on the horizon.

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