I can’t really say I’m disappointed even though, when I first heard of OFF! ,I was interested in hearing what Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks) had come up with. The story is Morris was working with producer Dimitri Coats (from the laughably atrocious Burning Brides) on what was supposed to be a new Circle Jerks album. (Nevermind that the last time the Jerks brand name was trotted out [1995’s Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities] it managed to fail in every imaginable aspect.) Well, during this process Coats and Morris starting working on tunes of their own and, voilà, OFF! was born. Add in Steve McDonald (Redd Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes) and the circle jerk (ha!) of forming a California “punk” all-star group was complete. The rest of the boring bio stuff can be found here. (It’s recommended reading, too, if only for its desperate tone of insistence upon the band’s relevance.)
You’d think, at least, between Morris and McDonald something passable might happen. Nope. It’s as if the last 31 years (from 1979, when Morris left his founding role in Black Flag and, uh, now) never happened! There’s not even a smidgen of the humor and melodic creativity of Circle Jerks, who did several great records many years ago, here. Every single one of the sixteen tracks on The First Four EPs is ripped off from the early years of Black Flag. There’s even a compilation you can buy from this era of Black Flag named (DUH!) The First Four Years! As if to make the connection all the more obvious the cover artwork is done by Raymond Pettibon (AKA Raymond Ginn, Gregg Ginn’s brother; the guy that made Black Flag records/flyers look distinctive. He also did the cover for Sonic Youth’s Goo). Every song clocks in at about a minute long (PUNK!), too, and each seems to inhabit this space by virtue of nothing but tradition as opposed to the brevity of each being a conscious (yet reflexive) punch against the rules of their day. It’s classic rock for the elder skater set. These aren’t even proper EPs. Everything was recorded in a couple of sessions and now they’re just being split four ways (but still being sold altogether as a 7″ box set.)
Above all, OFF! is a patronizing waltz band whose style of hardcore was long-codified by 1981; it’s positively fossilized now.
Hardcore, specifically North American hardcore, has been on an upswing for the past few years (which means it’s about to plateau, then fall again, pretty soon). OFF! is completely unrelated to this new currency. Rather than take years of collective experience and funnel it into something legitimately creative and new, they simply trod ancient ground that at least one of them (i.e. Morris) helped form. He could likely do this in his sleep. If it wasn’t so insulting you might feel sorry for them.
(As an aside, there hasn’t been a single thing put out by Vice Records that has done anything for me, which is kind of a shame because I really do like Vice Magazine. It consistently features some of the best culture writing from around the world and they appear to actually pay writers and that’s a gol-darned added bonus in today’s publishing climate.)
Black Flag (1978):