Flipper – Love/Fight

Flipper - LoveFlipperLove / Fight (MVD Audio)

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.

The result is one new studio effort (Love) and a live recording (Fight) packaged separately so fans can choose between a collection of new material and one that blends both the old and new.

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.

MP3: (Flipper – “Be Good Child”

Flipper: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki.

4 thoughts on “Flipper – Love/Fight”

  1. While it excites me, formerly a teenage fan who was never fortunate enough to catch them live, to know that Flipper (or most of them anyway) are still at it, I’m still undecided on these records, having listened to each once, courtesy the label’s website. I was intrigued, but not blown away.

    It seems incoherent though, to on the one hand assert that people really just want to hear the old stuff, and on the other hand deride the band’s new material for not progressing significantly. Ted Falconi’s sloppy guitar work has always been a big part of what makes Flipper sound like Flipper, and the apathetic/drunk stage presence of Bruce Lose (his proper nom-de-punq, not “Loose”) has always been part of the act, as a spin of Blown’ Chunks, or especially Public Flipper Limited, would illustrate.

    There are new elements, though: Novoselic’s bass lines are noticeably more melodic than the laconic four-note drones of much of their early material. This seems appropriate, since the way I hear it told, Novoselic was the driving force behind the focus on new material. Supposedly this round of Flipper was initiated at the request of Hilly the CBGB guy, and when Flipper asked Krist to handle bass duty, he said he would only do it if they wrote some new material, as he didn’t want to be in a mere nostalgia band. I think that’s respectable. The big, clean production is new as well, and I think it merits pointing out that Steve DePace’s drumming sounds tighter than I’ve ever heard it on a Flipper record — still no-frills, but his rhythm is noticeably steadier. Whether those are things you /want/ to hear in a Flipper record is up for debate. Also, this isn’t Flipper’s first reunion rodeo — I dare say Love is at least as good as American Grafishy, though of course that isn’t saying much :D

    Novoselic has left Flipper since the recording of these albums, replaced some Rachel Thoele, formerly of something called Frightwig, and there are indications that they plan to pay proper respect to their old standards — lately older tracks, including the Generic version of “Way Of The World,” have had stints on their MySpace page.

  2. American Grafishy was the first reunion, but this record came later in retrospect Grafishy was about 7 years after the last record, this one 15 years) and there was an idea that Flipper was kaput after Bruce’s car wreck. I don’t buy the new material thing though; Flipper got back for a few one-offs where a run through the catalog was pretty much what was being asked of him. And any talk of new material would mean touring-and not in major label style-something that Krist wasn’t (obviously) prepared to do anymore.

    These albums may be intriguing to Flipper fans to some extent-they weren’t too me obviously-but I’m willing to be that it would get the same amount of spins as Grafishy after the dust settled on that reunion.

  3. I think Novoselic did tour the UK with them before deciding to quit, so I reckon he thought initially that he’d be up for touring, and then thought better of it after actually trying it.

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