|Side One:||Side Two:|
Or perhaps the album title is Album and the band name is Generic Flipper. Who cares?
Anyway, RC roped me into writing these dopey record reviews which I really don’t have time for. I’ve got a full time job, a kid, and all kinds of other shit begging for my time. But whatever, I’ve had a particularly hard day at work and have about five brain cells to work on, so now’s the perfect time to write a review.
A little background on Flipper (the band, not the insufferable show): In the early eighties, punk rock bands and especially the offshoot hardcore groups were ratcheting up tempos and honing their sound to razor sharp clarity and tonality, Flipper hazily veered off in the complete opposite direction. Their sound is mired in a drug fueled stupor. Flipper’s songs take the breakneck hardcore of Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Minor Threat and slow it to a slug’s pace. Maybe they loved Sabbath? Maybe they were just not good enough to play fast? Or maybe they were just the perfect foil to Minor Threat: slow, sludgy, long songs, gleefully drunk and fucked up on all sorts of chemical entertainments. They have two bassists. That’s all you really need to know.
Album represents the first LP offering scattered among various single releases, a sophmore studio album and two live albums before the untimely death of co-songwriter, co-bassist, and cocopuffs-singer Will Shatter of a drug overdose in 1987. Unlike my usual M.O., one of my favorite things about this album is the lyrics. Not that they are particularly nice or poetic, but their general tone veers from the pessimistic and depressive (Ever, Shed No Tears) to the (almost) bright and life affirming (Life) and the outright defiant (Living for the Depression) but also with a great dry sense of humor (do I really need another example in parentheses?) The lyrics represent a wonderfully nuanced view of the world that was realistic and grey while still acknowledging that, as we’re all alive and in this world, we may as well make the most of it, right?
The album starts with screeching feedback that quickly plunges into a rumbling, jaunty drum and bass led groove. Perhaps ‘groove’ sounds too funky. Think of it as a punk groove, down and dirty, rhythmic and repetitive, sloppy and uncoordinated. Yet it all hangs together. “Ever” asks the listener if they’ve “ever lived a life that’s real/full of zest and no appeal”. Bruce Loose/Lose or Will Shatter or whoever paint life as a depressing set of contradictions (“ever wished the human race didn’t exist/then realize, you’re one too) and then nullify everything in the end (“have you ever? I have. So what?”) It’s exactly this combination of barely controlled musical calamity and raw, yet flippant, lyrics that make Album (and Flipper) so appealing.
Life is Cheap brings the lyrical tone down even further (“life is pretty cheap/it’s sold a decade at a time) while paradoxically cleaning up the sound somewhat (very somewhat). Then, Shed No Tears kicks in with a similar feedback blast to Ever, leading one to believe more of the same is coming about. However, the lyrics of Shed no Tears highlight one of the more interesting (and somewhat unusual for punk) positive facets of Flipper’s outlook. Sure, singing things like, “shed no tears for the martyr dying/only in pain, suffering, and death/can the martyr become what he’s chosen to be” doesn’t necessarily come off as being too happy (well, maybe it depends on your personality), but in some ways it makes perfect sense. Not every sad thing is necessarily so terrible when you think about it. A martyr fulfills their role by suffering, despots being murdered frees their subjects (ok, it’s cops and prisoners in the song, gimme a break), a suicide frees a depressive from a cruel world. Sometimes awful things fulfill a great purpose in life. Or some shit like that.
(I Saw You) Shine (with random parentheses) somehow manages to slow things down a bit more before dying out at the end of side 1. The record reaches funeral dirge like levels of speed. Yet, despite the (lack of) tempo, the track still manages to find a groove and lock it in. Perhaps this is one of the great triumphs of Flipper: the music sounds so sloppy you wonder if they even rehearsed beforehand. Yet, the grooves stay so grounded it’s impossible that Will Shatter flopped out a beer-soaked bed and grabbed a bass before the engineer hit record.
Ted Falconi… maybe.
Which brings me to another great thing about Flipper. Much like Gang of Four (who I imagine to be a powerful influence) but completely unlike other punk groups, Flipper are not led by guitar in the least. Twin bassists Bruce Loose and WIll Shatter (see, I got around to actually describing who these people are) led the way, with drummer Steve DePace holding down a groove so tightly you’d think Jaki Liebezeit of Can had forsaken Germany for the Bay area. Meanwhile, Ted Falconi sprayed feedback laden guitar riffs with wild abandon, adding a feral and uncontrolled sort of texture to the songs. So, again, Ted may have just joined the proceedings straight from a previous night’s hangover.
Onward to side 2, The Way of the World strips Will Shatter’s sense of humor bare for all the world to see… or something like that. The song works up a bleak sense of how the world works (thus, the ‘way of the world’). Such lines such as “there are eyes that cannot see and fingers that cannot touch” are inevitably demolished by the line, “there are hearts no longer beating and there’s entrails spilled on the floor/that’s the way of the world”. The final verse paints a picture with such absurd colors that one can’t help but view the words beforehand as being just as absurd. The deadpan singalong chorus probably doesn’t help matters much.
Life is probably the most standout song on the record from a thematic perspective. Here, Shatter lets loose an absolutely positive song exhorting listeners that “life is the only thing worth living for.” Of course, he couldn’t keep his tongue out of his cheek the entire song. Claiming that he has sung of death, chaos, mayhem, and depression (my words not his) but he’s “not going to sing that song anymore” (his words, not mine). I’ll give him four minutes and forty-four seconds before he starts singing about that crap again.
Nothing and Living for the Depression bring the pace up quite a bit with the latter almost becoming a hardcore punk song. Too bad Flipper still manages to screw it up and make it sludgy and bassy. Oh well, why defy expectations now? We’re almost through! By the way, I have no idea who the Ant guy who co-wrote the song is. It’s probably Adam Ant. In fact, it is Adam Ant. I’m sure of it.
Finally, we have Sex Bomb. The Sex Bomb. The “we’ll play Sex Bomb if you throw one more beer onstage” Sex Bomb. Take a rolling, churning bassline. Add a metronomic drum beat. A pinch of synthesizer (or something) for flavor. Add a dash of saxophone. Shake well and yell “sex bomb baby, yeah (or waaaah)” over and over. Repeat until the whole thing clatters to a stop.
Ok, are you happy now? Here’s a song by song overview for those who are still reading this crap.
Ever is good.
Life is Cheap is depressing.
Shed no Tears is also depressing, but somewhat reassuring.
(I Saw You Shine) is long.
The Way of the World is hilarious.
Life is reaffirming.
Nothing is nothing much, but I want out.
Living for the Depression is almost hardcore.
Sex Bomb, baby, yeah! (Repeat x26)
Oh yeah, it was released by Subterranean Records or some shit like that.
[Editor’s Note: Sorry, John, I added the info above, I’ve got to have some consistency here!]
Postscript: all jokes aside, I really am quite honored that R.C. selected me to contribute to VoV in his absence. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my awful, contrived writing in the meanwhile. Anyway, there should be more to come if I don’t drink too much scotch.