Rhino's DiY series; Husker Du – Zen Arcade; and Rollins Band – The End of the Silence

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by Nick DeRiso

A pair of early 1990s Rhino compilations, all punky guts and art-rock pretention – without being pretentious – showed how the Do It Yourself aesthetic was given great depth by the almighty hook. Taken together, they’re a nice overview of the British punk explosion and the last days of the UK power-pop days. There’s some overlap, too — at least in terms of attitude, and longevity.

A quick glance at the bands on these two albums says something: The Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Jam, the Boomtown Rats and Generation X were featured on the punk collection. Joe Jackson, the Records, Squeeze and XTC showed up on the pop CD.

This punk-and-pop business, in the end then, was no sputtering fad. While the series, like punk itself, could hardly be called a cohesive movement, it points to some far-reaching collective contributions that make the music worthwhile … even if not many listened in, at least initially:

— The idea that business shouldn’t come before music in the music business.

— The re-establishment of an underground alternative outlet for bands with bad singers, good songs and hard heads.

— The return of some semblance of danger in rock music.

— A string of recordings that were fiercely nihilist — yet have hung around and acquired a very real resonance for another generation.

In other words, the Sex Pistols are the new Dinosaurs of Rock!

How did that play out later? Well, there was the Cars, to be sure. But also Husker Du and Black Flag, two other favorites.

I was always an immense fan of Husker, and followed Bob Mould into what I thought was a successful solo career, as well. The obvious band choice is “Zen Arcade” — co-written by Mould and the underappreciated Grant Hart. It’s a testimony to understanding the blitzkrieg of punk enough to cram it into an articulate pop structure.

As for Black Flag? Still love Henry Rollins — ex-screamer with a seminal screamer band, he surely is rock’s first post-punk hyphenate: tattooed book writer, spoken-word performer, Lollapalooza alum, cable TV show host. A solo favorite: “The End of the Silence,” on Imago. Proof he hasn’t given up on his lifelong dream of making ground chuck out of your inner ear. The noise there was precise, the anger tightened with the naturalness of a pupil. When his band stops to inhale during “Almost Real” or “Obscene,” its only a brief respite in the enjoyable onslaught. Like an old-fashioned middle eight in pop music, this acts a breather as much as a bridge. Then, as the kinda-chorus of “Just Like You” reminds, it’s back to “rage, rage, rage.”

“One of my rules,” Rollins once said, “is to make myself an enemy to satisfaction.”

You are still allowed, I think, to like his records.

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