I discovered Black Flag’s Damaged in high school, and that is the best time to stumble onto that record. It opened my eyes to the possibility of other sonic ideas and was hugely important in creating a wider palate of musical enjoyment. I had never heard an album as angry as Damaged before. The members seemed like true disenfranchised youth that were regularly hassled by authorities and, as a result, their music sounded vicious, unhinged, and inspiring.
Damaged is one of those rare, unintentional masterpieces built on raw id and nursed on an oppressive environment. It’s something that cannot be duplicated and a style of music that is inherently attached to a genre that is purposefully limiting in approach.
In other words, the very idea of the Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth setting out to “re-interpret” Black Flag’s Damaged from memory is one of the most elitist fucking things ever and, surprise, Rise Above is one of the most elitist fucking records ever made.
There’s so much that makes me angry here: pointlessly complex vocal arrangements, lifeless Zoot Horn Rollo-styled guitar performances, all exclusively captured in art school magnetic tape. Every bit of hostility of the original has been removed, making Rise Above sound like a snobby art-haus record made by people who wouldn’t dare to invite you to their after-hours party, let alone the members of Black Flag.
It’s not a cover of the actual album, you understand. No, that would be too clichéd. Rise Above is a “reinterpretation” of Damaged, a project where Longstreth remembered the album without actually listening to it in order to gain an accurate form of reference. As a result, the song order is completely fucked, with five songs (including the two title tracks) missing and a shitload of the album’s lyrics completely destroyed or ignored.
I’m sure Longstreth can talk circles around all the reasons why he chose Damaged as the blueprint for his incredibly selective project here, but he conveniently ignores why the object of his inspiration even exists in the first place. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the “why” of Damaged wasn’t such an important part of that landmark album.
Black Flag created Damaged out of necessity.
Dirty Projectors created Rise Above out of affectation.
Video: Black Flag – “Rise Above” (live in 1982)