It's impossible for Black Flag to win this one. There's too much riding on the legacy the band have built up for this album — their first in 28 years — to satisfy people who hold them dear. That's the first thing. Then there's the fact that founding guitarist Greg Ginn is a divisive, litigious figure, going after former bandmates, including those who formed FLAG to tour and play Black Flag songs live, just before Ginn's plans to reform a version of the band and do the same thing came to pass.
Just last week, vocalist Ron Reyes was kicked out of the reconfigured Black Flag and, in a hilarious open letter, suggested it was because he suggested they attempt to be a good band. The external shit show ahead of the release of What the… has been a publicity nightmare and when the record (and its artwork) leaked, reviews weren't kind.
The recording is wonky; the frenetic power of the arrangements is buried beneath Reyes' needlessly multi-tracked vocals, which is a shame. There are some inspired guitar riffs and noise ideas going on — some of it reminiscent of early Nomeansno or the Jesus Lizard ("The Chase" is cool and dynamic) — but there's no might to any of it. It's a puny representation of a big sound made all the more unlistenable by the nuisance of the vocal lines. This is rage going through the motions and Black Flag fans are right to be up in arms. (SST)