I recently told a friend that I was reviewing a pair of Flipper albums. She knows much about old school punk rock having cut her teeth playing bass in a band inspired by those very same classic punk albums. When I clarified what Flipper records I was reviewing—a pair of new albums featuring Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic in the line up—she was incensed. “Will Shatter died twenty years ago!” she pointed out. “How can there be a new Flipper album without Will Shatter?”
I’ll leave that debate among the faithful, but one has to admire that the three remaining original Flipper members are still at it thirty years later. They’ve chosen a pretty dedicated band enthusiast to handle the low-end duties and yet another rock icon with his own impressive resume (Jack Endino) to help capture the proceedings.
One of the problems in reviewing a new Flipper album is that they have a longstanding tradition of intentionally pissing off their audience. So with every measure of atonal arrangements, with each bit of guitar dissonance, and with every dumb lyric you have to wonder if a high level of unlistenability was the plan from the get go.
If that’s your bag, if you find humor in a seminal punk rock band releasing a couple of dismal albums with little in the way of gaining additional fans or appeasing existing ones, then Love and Fight are made for you. For the other 99.9% reading this, the two albums are an embarrassment. Neither one remotely hints at how vital Flipper once was or encourages you to discover this fact.
Love, the band’s studio release of new material, is the worse of the two. While Novoselic’s bass sounds nice and mean throughout the record, guitarist Ted Falconi unleashes a wall of sludge that’s equal to the proficiency of a 12-year-old searching for the chords to “Sex Bomb Baby” for the first time. And since “Sex Bomb Baby” is just one chord anyway, this means the Falconi has managed to digress as a guitarist after thirty years of relations with his instrument. I don’t care if that’s his style, method, or ability; it’s lazy, annoying and a total fucking chore to listen to.
But it’s not as bad as Bruce Loose‘s performance throughout Love. Thematically, Loose’s subject matter has moved inches over the course of three decades. He bitches about Mom and Dad making him go to bed early (“Be Good Child!”), encourages us to “live real, don’t be fake” (“Live Real”) and waxes about the need for gun control (“Triple Mass”). Nearly every theme could have been lifted from Loose’s 7th grade notebook and is so woefully aligned with the past that it very well could have been.
Fight, the most inaccurate title of the band’s career, finds the band in front of a barely audible audience. When one member shouts out for the band’s most famous song, Loose drunkenly slurs “Fuck ‘Sex Bomb,’ we got some new shit to lay on you.” Indeed, when the band does travel down memory lane, they sound like they’re bored shitless. The strange thing is that there’s not much enthusiasm to the new material either. Loose sounds totally removed from everything on the set list and like he’d rather be anywhere than on stage. Verses are offbeat, lyrics are haphazardly shouted with varying results depending on his energy level, and when he’s got nothing left to shout, he resorts to moaning like a fifty-year-old dude with chronic back pain.
Maybe that explains the slurred speech present during the endless stage banter that shows up between several songs. He admonishes audience members for confusing new songs with old ones because they sound the same, asks his fellow band members “What are you playing?” and then has the nerve to rant on and on about how Flipper performances are exercises in individualism and how if we can’t understand that then we’re the ones with the problem.
The reality, however, is these lectures are telling. It’s clear that Loose is aware of what the crowd really wants and he makes up some bullshit as to why they’re not going to play it. The rest of the band must be as tired of Loose’s barking as he is of the older material: a few seconds into each rant, the members start fucking around with their instruments, drowning out Loose in the process.
Love and Fight are mere products, conveniently assembled like a branded souvenir just in time for the 30th anniversary tour and sadly removed from their historical heights. Faced with the prospect that everyone attending will want to hear nothing but the old material—and rightfully so—these two discs serve as a hollow attempt to be modernly relevant and an even weaker excuse to not have to rely on the very songs that everyone came out to see. I’d hate to count the number of times they’ve had to put “Sex Bomb” on the set list, but a more daunting prospect is putting a half-baked new song on that very same list.
Love and Fight are impulse products, meant to be gobbled up at the merch stand after a reunion show to help fund the gas tank to get to the next town. But as Fight woefully demonstrates, the smart money is just to stay home when the band comes around and spin Generic Flipper as a gentle reminder of a band’s past glory. In fact, that’s advice that even Flipper themselves might strongly consider.