Track Review: Black Flag – “Down in the Dirt”

[SST Records; 2013]

Do you remember that episode of Star Trek where Spock had to choose between stunning the real Kirk or stunning an impostor? Right now I feel like Spock, and I’m not sure where to aim all my frustration. A recent schism has erupted in the Church of Black Flag, compelling hardcore fans to choose between two different simultaneous reunions, both with central figures of the band’s splintered history. One is led by founding guitarist Greg Ginn, joined by on-and-off (mostly off) frontman Ron Reyes, Screeching Weasel’s Dave Klein as tour bassist, and Gregory Moore, who once played as part of Ginn’s stopgap project Gone. The other, touring under the name FLAG, is headed by fan favorites Keith Morris and Dez Cadena, along with Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of the Descendents.

A couple of days ago, the “real” Black Flag released a new song on their website called “Down in the Dirt.” The song only affirms my suspicion that news with the words “new song” and “Black Flag” together isn’t necessarily great news. Ginn is still a whiz with angular riffs, sending his guitar reeling across his disjointed bass lines. Reyes’ lyrics sit somewhere between vague pseudo-political rage and schoolyard taunts: “Fiction, romance, all the things that you say / Come down in the dirt and play.” Delivered with fleeting enthusiasm, the message here feels phoned-in and dismissive.

This single heralds the release of Black Flag’s first studio album since 1985’s In My Head. But in 1985, this song would’ve just been okay. By the end of the Black Flag’s original incarnation, the band had already begun experimenting with different forms, incorporating heavy metal and spoken word, and taking on more complex subject matter. “Down in the Dirt” feels, well, regressive and kind of self-indulgent. Meanwhile, the “fake” FLAG is sticking strictly to playing songs from the band’s catalog. Probably the wiser decision. But for the sake of the Enterprise, it’s might be best to stun them both just to be sure.

Black Flag’s as-yet-untitled new album is due sometime this summer via SST Records. Exchange your email address for a copy of “Down in the Dirt” at their website.