Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23: Flipper, "Sex Bomb"

Artist: Flipper
Song: "Sex Bomb"
Album: Generic
Year: 1982

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Largely due to the style and attitude that was buried within a majority of the mainstream music of the time, it is somewhat understandable why many critics claimed that the "spirit" of rock and roll was rather difficult to find throughout the 1980's.  While many bands decided to do little more than sing songs of excess and play rather showy music, the "guts" and attitude that defined much of what rock music had come to be was far more difficult to find.  However, it was most certainly alive and well, but it many cases it was hiding behind terms like "post-punk" and "hardcore."  In terms of both the attitude and energy which makes rock music so fantastic, few bands of the time period represented rock and roll better than Flipper, and yet they remain one of the most tragically overlooked bands in history.  Rising from the wild Los Angeles hardcore scene, Flipper were a band that seemed to make it their mission to follow no rules whatsoever with their music, and the resulting songs were largely chaotic, but there was a controlled genius to be found in every recording.  To this end, though it is completely unique in every way, one cannot deny the brilliance on their 1982 debut, Generic, and the album manages to hit just as hard now as it did upon first release.  Though the entire record is well worth hearing, it is the mind-blowing final track, "Sex Bomb," that cements Flipper's place as one of the most important and innovate bands in history.

From the instant that "Sex Bomb" begins, the wide range of influences on the band become abundantly clear, and while there is no question that Flipper simply smashed them all together, there is a strange genius within the sound.  The most dominant aspect of the music is the grinding bassline from Bruce Loose, and on many levels, in both his tone and approach, he captures the essence of the L.A. hardcore scene within his playing.  It is the almost lulling repetition of the bassline that gives "Sex Bomb" a bit of an unsettling, ominous feeling, and it is also where the song becomes firmly rooted in a sound that is rather akin to heavy metal.  This sound is complimented by the rather disorderly guitar from Ted Falconi, and though he is somewhat buried in most mixes of the song, he adds another level of crunchy chaos to "Sex Bomb."  Drummer Steve DePace gives one of the more controlled performances on "Sex Bomb," and yet on many levels, his rhythm is completely ignored by the rest of the band.  The other players seem to be going at their own pace, and the fact that it somehow works perfectly is the true genius behind Flipper.  These multiple rhythms play a bit of an odd game with one another, as there is no question that the song has a strong beat, and yet it is so untamable, that the song is impossible to nail in a specific time signature.  This makes the song impossible to dance or mosh or "anything" along to, and all one can to is stand back and appreciate the unmatched genius that is on display throughout "Sex Bomb."

However, what may be the most superb musical aspect of "Sex Bomb" is the saxophone from "Bobby" and "Ward."  From the earlier moments of "just punctuation" to the brilliantly potent almost-solos they take later in the song, the fact that they fit so perfectly within the sound is a testament to just how far apart Flipper were from their peers.  There is no question that in this aspect, the band took a page from The Stooges, and it works just as perfectly, giving "Sex Bomb" an overall feeling and sound like nothing else in music history.  Perfectly complimenting this clear familiarity with the The Stooges, on "Sex Bomb," even at first listen, there is no question that the focus of the song is on the almost feral, maddening vocals from the great Will Shatter.  As he shouts his way through the songs' only lyric, there is an almost Beat-era rhythm within his delivery, and it is almost odd how he is able to say so much by doing nothing more than repeating the same phrase.  Again, the comparison to the vocal approach of Iggy Pop is hard to avoid, and yet Shatter makes the sound all his own, seeming to dig deeper and deeper into his deranged lunacy with each repetition of the phrase.  It is the fact there is such a strong sense of raw honesty within his vocals that makes them impossible to ignore, and while many other vocalists attempted the "in your face" style, none carried it out as perfectly as one finds on "Sex Bomb."

In many ways moreso than any other band in history, it is truly impossible to place Flipper into any single musical genre.  This is largely due to the fact that on every song they recorded, the band seems to make a clear point to not obey any "rules" of music whatsoever, even their own.  While this certainly is the key reason that songs like "Sex Bomb" sound so chaotic at first, once one gives the song a "real" listening, the unique genius of the composition comes to light.  The way that the band was able to build a form around the seemingly disorderly music almost pushes it into a jazz arena, as there is certainly improvisation and playing off of one another present throughout "Sex Bomb."  Furthermore, the fact that the song clocks in at nearly eight minutes separates it quite far from the "normal" idea of punk or hardcore, and even sets it past the "normal" timing within rock songs.  Yet it is also the fact that throughout the eight minutes, "Sex Bomb" never loses any steam or power that proves its might and distinction, as one would be hard pressed to find any other song in history that can retain such a presence whilst largely repeating the same vocal and musical phrases.  As the song continues, the playing becomes sloppier and heavier, and this mirrors the way that one can hear Shatter's vocals become more and more disturbed, before the entire song somewhat falls over suddenly.  It is this mesmerizing chaos and all out sonic warfare that makes Flipper's extraordinary 1982 song, "Sex Bomb" such a pivotal and truly genius moment in music history.

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